Thursday, December 3, 2009

Patrick C. Lynch, Attorney General, State of Rhode Island

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch commands a presence, even in a showroom filled with other commanding personalities. He's direct, intelligent, handsome and highly knowledgeable about the issues of dating violence. A committed activist against this violence, he backed the very first law in the United States, Lindsay's Law, mandating dating violence education for grades 7 through 12 in all Rhode Island schools.

"I met Ann Burke," he tells me right away as we share a table in the Liz Claiborne showroom, "and she's why I got involved. Rhode Island is one of the only states where the Attorney General also does all of the D.A. work. So I handle every crime that happens, assign a prosecutor and get the case started. Unfortunately, domestic violence is the crime we see the most often. When the Lindsay Burke case came through, it was particularly horrific." He doesn't elaborate on the details of Lindsay's brutal murder. He doesn't have to.

"I met Ann at the outset of the case and I told her not to expect closure, even with a conviction. Closure is pretty hard to come by for surviving family members. Most just try to live with the pain in whatever way they can. But some are able to actually rise out of it--out of their suffering--and ask what else can I do? Ann is one of those special people. She told me 'I want to do something. What should we do?' We looked at her family's background in education, at Lindsay's love of education, and it was clear what we needed to do."

"We're at a deficit of education in our schools in this country. I challenge anyone reading this--moms especially--to look at your schools. Call them, ask them specifically if there is existing dating violence education programing in their curriculum. If the answer is no, challenge them to implement one."

"You know, I'm coming at this issue not just as an Attorney General, but also as a parent. This type of violence starts much younger than most of us realized. All the studies I've seen, studies by attorneys general, put the onset between ages 12 and 14. Our kids need to know what this is, they need to know that they're not alone and they need to know there are informed people they can talk to and trust. A coach, a teacher, a friend, a friend's parent--whomever. Because these days, with new technologies, texting and everything, your middle schooler can be sitting quietly next to you experiencing abuse in the form of excessive, invasive, bullying text messages and you could have no idea. And she might not know that it's not OK and that she can talk to you about it." As he talks, the Attorney General in him recedes a bit, and the concerned father comes to the fore.

"As an Attorney General, I see three ways to make a difference on this issue," he says. "In the courtroom, but that's after the fact. The scars are already there, the lives are lost and the Ann Burke's are already mourning their daughters. The second way to make a difference is through legislation. I can try to enact laws to protect women, to protect girls, to prevent more losses. But the third way to make a difference is the most important. It's education." He lets that sit as he looks over my shoulder out the window overlooking Times Square. "If we can reach all those people, if we can reach teens before the violence, if we can help them understand that it's wrong and that they don't have to endure it, then we're making a real difference. That's how we'll stop this violence."

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