Women shouldn’t have to beg to be protected from violent men.
They shouldn’t have to coax police, or to repeatedly call emergency numbers with not just one law enforcement agency but two to have their concerns addressed.
And when a woman is murdered by the man that she repeatedly tried to alert authorities about, those authorities ought to own up to their responsibility in the matter and not try to cover the truth with bureaucratic gobbledygook.
But that is exactly what’s happening to the memory of 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey.
McCluskey, a University of Utah track athlete and a senior communications major from Washington state, was shot and killed on campus Oct. 22 by a paroled sex offender who then killed himself.
Melvin Rowland stalked the young woman after she broke off their one-month relationship when she found out his real identity and criminal history.
They’d met at a Salt Lake City bar. He was the bouncer, hired by an unlicensed security firm that didn’t perform a background check on him. The now defunct company is just one of many negligent actors in this story.
But negligence is not a theme of the University of Utah’s response to a 64-page report on the murder that the Utah Department of Public Safety released on December 19.
This passage gives the flavor of the university’s response: “The review team’s report identified gaps in training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies rather than lapses in individual performance.”
Or, as University of Utah President Ruth Watkins told the press, “The report does not offer any reason to believe that this tragedy could’ve been prevented.”
On the contrary, McCluskey’s death should serve as indictment of how society in general views domestic violence. Her case reveals the attitudes and problems embedded in institutions meant to serve and protect that repeatedly fail women.
Statistics reveal the context. Women are shot, strangled and beaten to death by former and current boyfriends and husbands at rates that constitute a public health crisis. When women are murdered, more than half of the time it’s by a former intimate partner, according to studies of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is news to a lot of people who ought to know better — especially people in law enforcement.
But in McCluskey’s case, university police missed a lot more. They didn’t realize at first that her stalker, Rowland, was on parole. Parole officials didn’t know that he’d been reported to university police. Student housing didn’t flag on a non-student hanging out in the woman’s residence hall. The campus police had no victim advocate to work with Lauren ... and on and on.
Then there were McCluskey’s calls to police. At first patiently, and then with increasing frustration and dismay, she called the University of Utah police. She called the Salt Lake City Police dispatchers twice, concerned that the university wasn’t moving fast enough.
Advocates regularly hear differing versions of this story. There is the sense that women aren’t believed, that they’re not taken seriously by investigators, that they are overreacting to the attention of a jilted former lover.
McCluskey’s parents noted as much in a reply to the investigative report.
“Responsibility for assessing Lauren’s level of personal danger was entirely placed on Lauren, despite the fact that she had just ended a manipulative relationship and despite her numerous attempts to report elevating concerns to the UUPD,” her parents wrote.
University officials accepted the report, its recommendations, and are quickly making changes.
And yet, they pointed to the manipulative behavior of Rowland as if he were some sort of genius of deception. In truth, he lied and pulled a few stunts. He used multiple phone numbers to contact Lauren and tried to make her believe that he was dead, attempting to lure her.
We tell young women to be careful when agree to go on a date, to watch for signs of ill intent, to know the red flags of stalkers and possessive men — and to go to law enforcement authorities if they grow fearful for their safety.
Lauren McCluskey did all of this and more. Repeatedly.
Why wasn’t that enough? Until there is a straight, unvarnished answer — from the University of Utah community and from institutions like it everywhere — we won’t be able to keep women’s lives safe.