Crystal Hamilton was doing what many of us do on Saturdays—she was at home with her family and making plans for her evening. She will never see her son become a teenager, graduate from high school, find the love of his life or perhaps even start a family. Her 11 year-old son has lost his mother and has endured a trauma that will forever change his relationship to his father, will forever leave him feeling unsure and unsafe. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Crystal, his wife.
Officer Ashley Guindon was doing what law enforcement officers do on Saturdays and every day of the week—responding to a 911 call indicating possible domestic violence. Having just started on the force, she will never know the feeling that comes with making a positive contribution to public safety. Whatever dreams she may have had for her future will never become a reality. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Officer Guindon as she approached his home and with shooting two other law enforcement officers who responded with her.
Crystal Hamilton is one of an estimated 50 people who will die in Virginia at the hands of their intimate partner this year. Like Crystal, most of those victims will be women killed by a current or former partner who uses a firearm.
Ashley Guindon is one of an estimated 50 law enforcement officers who will die responding to domestic violence in the United States this year. The majority of those deaths will occur as officers approach the scene…before they even have the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned for responding to domestic violence.
The media coverage and the response to these two deaths has caused me to pause and reflect in my work. Initial reports focused almost exclusively on the shootings of 3 police officers. There was immediate and heartbreaking coverage about the death of Officer Ashley Guindon and the fact that it was her first day on the job. Crystal Hamilton then became visible as coverage continued; she was often referred to as “his wife” or as “the victim” of domestic violence.
The law enforcement community across the Commonwealth responded swiftly and viscerally to the killing of a fellow officer. Rituals reserved for this specific tragedy were there as a support and as a public statement in the wake of this trauma. These rituals gave language to the grief felt by colleagues. And as the posts from law enforcement officers past and present appeared on my Facebook page, as the articles appeared in the news, as policy leaders spoke in the media about Officer Guindon’s tragic death, I was keenly aware that those of us in the domestic violence victim advocacy community are nearly as invisible in the public conversations that follow domestic violence homicides as Crystal Hamilton was in the coverage of this event. Perhaps because we sadly witness these horrible deaths nearly once a week across the state. Maybe we are immobilized by the weight of all of the violence and trauma and death.
I can not help but wonder what might happen if we were no longer quiet in the wake of each domestic violence homicide. What might happen if we created public and powerful rituals around each death—to bring strength to the survivors, to help us through our fear and grief, to offer hope to our communities?
Two 29-year old women lost their lives on Saturday. They lost their lives to domestic violence–to a public safety and public health scourge that is preventable. Let us all remember both of these women as we continue to work together for safe and respectful relationships for all. ALL.
Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years.
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