Never touch a woman, not even with a rose petal.
“We had no idea of the dangerous life our daughter led. Now we want to warn other people.”
Who: Marta and Rick Omilian
What: Manage the Remembering Maggie Fund, which spreads information about violence among young people and agitates against the US liberal weapons legislation.
Martha shakes her head as she tells her story. She remembers how the police officers stayed and waited while Rick and Martha called their parents and brothers and sisters. How one of the officers followed behind Rick when he began wandering round the house, maybe to prevent the father from doing anything foolish. How Martha said to the police: “I feel sorry for you, it must be such a difficult job, having to give people such terrible news.”
“That’s so typical of me,” she says smiling sadly. “Feeling sorry for someone else first. It can be a good thing, but sometimes I think that Maggie got too much of that from me. She took too much responsibility for other people, just like me.”
For Maggie Wardle, taking responsibility led to her death. Although she had broken up with her jealous boyfriend, she went to his room on the campus late one evening to help him with something.
He shot and killed Maggie, then himself.
He shot and killed Maggie, then himself.
“The College authorities were, naturally, shocked, but they were also worried we would sue the school,” says Rick. “They offered us 10,000 dollars for a fund in memory of Maggie. We said it would be better if they used the money to prevent a similar tragedy by making support available to vulnerable young women and by spreading information about the warning signals.”
That is what happened. Women students were offered self-defence training, and a part-time position was introduced to offer support to students at risk. After four years the position was withdrawn. A male network against violence, the Coalition for Male Students Against Domestic Violence, was set up, but one of the founding members was expelled about a year later, after a rape.
Instead, Rick and Martha Omilian set up the ‘Remembering Maggie Fund’. They raise money in different ways to spread information about the violence which exists among young people, to show it is not only married mothers with several children who are victims of partners who are controlling, jealous and – at worst – capable of violence and murder.
Every October, on the anniversary of Maggie’s death, the school holds a memorial ceremony, with discussions.
Maggie’s mother, Martha, and step-father, Rick, travel around themselves to talk about their experiences. They had no idea of the danger in which Maggie was living. They did not recognise the warning signals. They have made several appearances at Kalamazoo College, where Maggie was murdered. Every October, on the anniversary of Maggie’s death, the school holds a memorial ceremony, with discussions.
“Every time we’ve spoken there, someone has come up to us afterwards. They say we’ve given them something to think about, like ‘maybe I’ve got a problem.’. ”
There is so much still to do. Many people contact Rick and Martha directly.
“Like parents whose daughters have been raped on campus and who’ve been advised not to report it to the police. That kind of legal case is bad PR for the school …
Like parents whose daughters have been raped on campus and who’ve been advised not to report it to the police. That kind of legal case is bad PR for the school …
Many colleges have internal ‘courts’ which impose mild sentences and advise the victim against reporting the matter to the police: “It’ll be hard to prove anything if he denies it, you know, and think of all the media attention and fuss – you don’t want that, do you?”
Just the other week, we heard about a girl who had committed suicide after being raped.”
The other question which engages the Omilians is the gun laws. Since the school shootings which have attracted so much attention, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, there have been calls for college students to be allowed to carry guns – “for self-defence”.
“It’s absurd,” says Rick Omilian. “The fact is that guns are used 22 times more often for other purposes (suicide, murder or accidental shootings) than for self-defence. People who carry guns run a 4.5 greater risk of being shot themselves than people who are unarmed.”
Just the other week, we heard about a girl who had committed suicide after being raped.
He goes on to refer to the statistics which show that a gun is the most common weapon used when men murder women in the US. Almost two-thirds of those shot have been killed by a man with whom they are, or have been, in a relationship. When all types of weapons are taken into account, the risk of a woman being shot by a man close to her is more than four times greater than the risk that she will be murdered by a stranger.
Sources: National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control: Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home (Arthur Kellerman); When men murder women: An analysis of 2008 homicide data (Violence Policy Centre), American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: Risks and benefits of a gun in the home (2011), International Action network on small arms.
Maternal deaths: 16 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.06
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion. Some states have regulations making certain information to pregnant women mandatory, including the size and appearance of the foetus.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: one woman in six has been subjected to sexual violence.