In Guam - an island in the western Pacific Ocean and a territory of the United States - nearly half of the victims represented in a recent Silent Witness ceremony were killed by gun violence. In this article, U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco said that nationally, three times as many women are killed by guns used by their husbands or intimate partners than are killed by strangers' guns, knives and weapons combined.

Family violence victims memorialised

By Erin Thompson • Pacific Daily News • October 20, 2010

During a Silent Witness ceremony at the U.S. Attorney's Office yesterday, it took multiple renditions of the chorus of Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" to get through the 32 names of victims killed by family violence on Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

As the names of victims flashed on a large screen, often with a photograph of a smiling face juxtaposed with details of their violent deaths, family members wiped away tears and cried softly.

Along the room's walls, red-painted silhouettes represented 26 men, women and children in Guam who were killed in family violence.

Part of October's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the event was one of several ceremonies held this month to raise the island's awareness of violence perpetrated by domestic partners and family members.

"We must always continue our prevention and awareness outreach," said U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco. "Through my experience, we've found that prevention and awareness programs are critical to our community reporting these crimes and acts of violence, and to encourage victims to seek help."

Beyond prevention and outreach, Limtiaco said collaboration and sharing resources among law enforcement partners and nonprofit agencies is critical to holding offenders accountable, and that agencies also need to assess what programs are working.

"We can reassess our laws and see whether there are any other changes that need to be made to improve enforcement," she said.

Federal initiatives

Limtiaco also cited several measures taken by the federal government to address the problem, including the recent inclusion of same-sex couples in the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for investigation and enforcement of crimes against women.

"This confirms that the Department of Justice prosecutors have access to all the available tools to protect victims of domestic violence and stalking, whether they be in same-sex or opposite-sex relationships," she said.

She also noted the development of the Defending Childhood initiative, which focuses on reducing childhood exposure to violence, increasing knowledge and awareness of the cause and characteristics of children exposed to violence, and reducing the negative impact of children's exposure to violence.

"Repeated exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes our children to numerous emotional, mental, physical and social problems, but also teaches our children that violence is a normal way of life, thus increasing our children's risk of becoming our communities' next generations of abusers and victims," she said.

The U.S. Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhoods focuses on reducing gun violence and illegal gun possession, she said.

Limtiaco said that nationally, three times as many women are killed by guns used by their husbands or intimate partners than are killed by strangers' guns, knives and weapons combined. In Guam, nearly half of the victims represented in the ceremony were killed by gun violence.

Recent deaths

The event was held a little more than a week after the death of another alleged victim of domestic violence. It underscored the impact domestic violence has had on the island's communities. The small room was crowded with family members and community supporters from advocacy groups and government agencies.

Melissa Quinata was shot and killed in July 1984 by her husband. Patricia Quinata, Melissa Quinata's mother, described the pain of going to the hospital to find her daughter lying dead in a hospital room.

"All I could see was the body of my daughter Melissa ... her head was wrapped in guaze, her mouth open and her eyes half closed," she said tearfully. "We rushed to her side, not believing she was dead. We cried and we begged her to wake up, but she remained still and silent. We rubbed her cold and lifeless body to keep her warm, but her body remained cold."

Angie Mendiola, the aunt of Melissa Quinata, was one of several other members of the Quinata family who turned out for the event. She said events like the Silent Witness ceremony help her memorialize her niece while raising awareness.

"I strongly believe that it's bringing awareness to the community, and we know that the community hasn't forgotten our beloved Melissa," said Mendiola. "We know as victims that there are agencies -- government and nonprofit agencies -- that are available for victims themselves."

A former principal at several elementary schools, including Wettengel Elementary School in Dededo, Mendiola said awareness among teachers and administrators in the school system is a key factor in identifying cases of domestic abuse. She suggested sending out task forces to the schools to help reach educators and students.

She also suggested communities set up satellite shelters in areas far removed from the centrally located Alee Shelter and Erica's House. "If I were the abused victim, it's hard for me to just go to the Alee shelter," she said. "Even though the island is small, ... what if they don't have a car, they don't have a phone?"

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