The contrast could not be more vivid: On the day a Rowley man is sentenced to five to six years in prison for brutally beating his pregnant wife, hundreds of supporters of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center turn out for a major fundraiser to hear about the people and programs working to prevent domestic violence.
As the details of what the judge called "violent and extreme" domestic violence played out in a Salem courtroom, and the man accused weighed whether to accept the prison sentence or risk his fate at trial, the man's wife pleaded with the judge to let William Plona come home. The idea of raising their now-18-month-old daughter alone, while Plona sat in prison, was more than she could bear.
Miles away in a banquet hall in Georgetown, half a dozen middle and high school students spoke about the MVP (Mentors against Violence Prevention) and Girls Inc. programs in which they were involved. They talked about how boys and girls learn to foster healthy dating relationships, engage in violence prevention, gain self confidence and how girls are taught to be "strong, smart and bold."
The crisis center supporters included victims of domestic violence, police officers, politicians and hundreds of everyday people concerned about equality for women and stopping abuse and violence against people of both sexes.
Peter Hoyt, a member of the White Ribbon Committee which plans the annual fundraiser, recalled how two domestic killings occurred years ago when he was a principal of the Cashman Elementary School in Amesbury – including the murder of a son by his father, on Father's Day. Those tragedies helped spur formation of what became the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center.
Also speaking at the fundraising breakfast, Geiger Center CEO Suzanne Dubus pointed out how 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the U.S. were likely to be victims of violence by a partner at some point in their lives. She applied the number to those in the room, making a chilling point about how domestic violence isn't something that happens somewhere else, but can, and does, happen here.
In the Salem courtroom, Judge Salim Tabit stood firm with his proposed sentence of five to six years in prison for Plona, brushing aside a request for lesser sentence from Plona's lawyer. The judge acknowledged the victim's concern about being a single mother with such a young child.
"I don't want you to think for a minute I did not consider your feelings. Had I now, I would have imposed a more significant sentence," the judge said in coverage by reporter Julie Manganis. He said he was obligated to take a victim's feelings under consideration, but added, "I also have to look out for the public's safety."
In the end, the evidence of his assault on the woman was so clear that Plona, her husband, accepted the judge's sentence and is scheduled to be transferred Monday from the Middleton Jail to state prison.
Beyond the physical and emotional damage in domestic assaults, abusive relationships too often have fatal consequences. Jane Doe Inc., which tracks domestic violence, reported that 15 women were killed in Massachusetts in 2018 in domestic violence cases, including Wendi Rose Davidson in North Andover, and Yesinia Torres in Lawrence. And that total doesn't count the case in Lawrence in which Miguel Rivera now stands charged with rape and murder of his 11-year-old niece, who died at a Boston Hospital after toxic exposure to fentanyl and amitriptyline, a drug that causes sleepiness.
The work of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center to help women and men who are being abused, and the education and training programs run by the center, are essential. We see the evidence almost every day in our communities and across the country. The Geiger Center works to prevent domestic violence from happening, even as it counsels and tries to help heal victims of violence that has occurred. The work never ends, and the support from the community is more important than ever.
More on the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center: https://jeannegeigercrisiscenter.org
More on Jane Doe Inc.: www.janedoe.org