Women’s rights advocate killed by a stalker

I’ve been following the horrible news about Johanna Justin-Jinich, a woman at Wesleyan University who was recently shot by a man who was stalking her. The man who allegedly killed her, Stephen Morgan, had been stalking her for quite some time. (It seems he had some anti-semitic motivations as well.) This story is harrowing:

As the investigation unfolded, the police focused on the only known point of connection between the victim and the assailant. It was a six-week summer program, in June and July 2007, at New York University, called Sexual Diversity in Society. [...]
The two lived in student housing, but not in the same residence hall, said John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesman. On July 17, as the program was nearing its end, Ms. Justin-Jinich notified the university that she had received repeated harassing e-mail messages and phone calls from Mr. Morgan. The school notified the police, and officers spoke with her. The case was referred to detectives.
The police report told of 38 e-mail messages that were “insulting” and “unwanted.” It quoted one as saying, “You’re going to have a lot more problems down the road if you can’t take any criticism, Johanna,” using an expletive. But she declined to file charges, and the matter was dropped.

One reason this news has me shaken up is that I know a lot of women who have been stalked. Thankfully, none of those situations has ended in violence. But stories like Johanna’s are all too common. Asia McGowan. Elnora Caldwell. Natasha Hall. Countless others.
Whether these women were stalked by someone they’d been in a relationship with or by a total stranger, reading about so many acts of violence by stalkers really makes it home that we have completely inadequate ways of addressing this issue. Yes, the Violence Against Women Act funds various police programs and local services to assist stalking victims. Yes, women can opt to press charges or file restraining orders. But as with so many situations of violence against women, in the end, there is no guarantee of safety, no fail-safe answer. It’s both depressing and infuriating at the same time. (Seems like a good time to point out again how messed up it is when products and magazines try to appeal to stalkers.)
Oh, and fuck you, Daily News. I’m sure Justin-Jinich, who was a women’s rights advocate, would have really appreciated being identified only as a “raven-haired stunner.”
Related:
NCVC tip sheet on stalking (PDF)
Is a restraining order ever enough?

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19 Comments

  1. hoolissa
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    this is horrible. one of my friends was her best friend from high school…

  2. GREGORYABUTLER
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    According to the press accounts, the police actually stopped Morgan at the crime scene after the murder, questioned him, took his name and address and let him go
    The only reason they caught him is because he turned himself in 4 days later.
    It’s not clear why the cops let him walk away from the crime scene – but, considering what we know about the institutional biases of American police forces, I can speculate.
    Morgan is White and from a very wealthy Boston family (I believe his father is a hedge fund manager). He’s also a Navy veteran.
    Because of his class origin and military background – not to mention his race and gender – he probably didn’t fit the Wesleyan Police’s idea of what a “suspect” looks like.
    In any case, it’s truly horrible what happened to Johanna Justin-Jinich – by all accounts, she was a very intelligent person with a lot of promise and a fundamentally decent and nice person… it’s really fucked up that her life was so brutally cut short by this guy.

  3. Qi
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    The NY Daily News says some newspapers and TV stations are reporting the guy was her ex-boyfriend. If this is true, it makes this another case of domestic violence as much as stalking.
    This recession is causing a rise in domestic violence across the board, with high profile cases particularly spiking in the news. I heard on the radio that the number of such killings has increased beyond the historical norm and is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
    In Tennessee, 50% of all crimes against people are now linked to domestic violence.

  4. cattrack
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    This makes me think that the various state bills extending conceal carry laws to college campuses make a lot of sense in this violence prone world. You can’t always stop stalkers & gunmen proactively. Sometimes having a gun is the only way to protect yourself or others. According to the journal police recovered he had planned on killing numerous women and Jews. Thank God that didn’t happen.

  5. Qi
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the second post, but although there is no fail-safe answer, but I feel it is important to point out that there is something we can do about this.
    “The New York Times [reports] that twelve states have adopted legislation allowing the use of global positioning devices to track and monitor persons against whom personal protection orders ["PPOs"] have been issued.” (Link)
    Here is an (admittedly casual) description of how one such law works:
    “Putting this GPS tracker on an abuser will not track his every movement. A zone of protection is created around the victim’s home and work. If the abuser enters one of those zones, the victim receives an alert by pager/cell phone so she/he has time to get away or call the police.
    Mary was not beaten to death. Her estranged husband waited outside her workplace for her. He rammed her car until it flipped over, and while she hung upside down in her seat belt, walked over and shot her in the chest. If she had had some warning, as from a GPS alert, she would not have left her office and been murdered.
    Orders of Protection are different from restraining orders, but the fact remains that they will not stop bullets. The GPS tracking is not to track every movement an abuser makes, but to help prevent him/her from violating these orders and murdering their victims.”

    Would such a law have helped Johanna? It’s not clear. But it might. The Daily News also reported that the suspect used a disguise to get closer to her, so he clearly was worried about whether or not he’d be recognized by her and he knew he was not supposed to be close to her. In such a case, had he been wearing a GPS, it may well have saved her life.
    Here is a list of states that have passed GPS laws. New York is not on there. These laws tend to have bipartisan support- in Michigan, it was passed with a unanimous vote by the state legislature.

  6. Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It seems the only women who can get restraining orders and prosecute their stalkers are celebrities like Tyra Banks and Uma Thurman. It’s shocking that unless you are rich and famous, you can’t get a restraining order to stick or to be even taken seriously.
    I had a friend who was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend, and even when she filed for a restraining order against him, it did no good. He continued to stalk her and harrass her while the justice system stood by and told her she was most likely not in danger. I finally told my friend to buy a taser and if the creep came near her, let him get a taste of her little friend. She took my advice, got herself a C2 taser and never left home without it. One evening when she was walking to her car after after working late, he was waiting for her, crouched behind another vehicle. Because it was dark out and the parking lot was empty, my friend carried her taser armed and ready to use it. He jumped out and started walking toward her, and she shot out 50,000 volts that took the creep down instantly. She was able to jump in the car and take off and dial 911 while he lay flopping around on the pavement totally incapacitated. The cops came on the scene within minutes and hauled his ass off to jail. Although he was out the next day on bail, her ex backed off and never bothered her again. The taser left more of a lasting impression than the “so-called” restraining order.
    Ladies — you got a stalker or an intimate partner who likes to use you as a punching bag? Get yourself a personal protection device such as a taser, pepper spray, mace or stun gun and show HIM whose boss. Visit http://www.stingergirlz.com for more information. Protect yourself and stay safe!!

  7. Qi
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I agree a gun might help in some cases, but in this case, she wouldn’t have had time to pull out a gun. From the description, she probably never even saw him until he started shooting.

  8. cattrack
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    According to the news reports the gunmen’s description hadn’t been fully dissemeninated at the time the patrolmen spoke with him. It’d be a stretch to say this guy looked wealthy & he certainly didn’t look military. He looked like a somewhat older, and very scruffy college student.

  9. cattrack
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Agreed, Qi, but someone else might’ve taken him down right then & there. This is about the 1st college campus shooting I can recall that involved just 1 victim. Usually it involves multiple victims.

  10. RedHeadJenn
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Having been a victim of stalking, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I read/hear something like this. The fact that there are very few laws that cover “stalking” behaviors even now nearly 20 years after my experience is extremely frustrating. Throw technology into the mix and we’re even more unprotected and left feeling incredibly helpless because it seems nothing can be done to make it stop. The fact that Johanna was murdered is tragic, but that is to say nothing of what she likely went through at the hands of her stalker leading up to this. Personally, I’d get a phone call or letter detailing my every move if i went anywhere outside of my house to the point that I stopped seeing my friends or leaving for anything other than school (which was also not a buffer). For her, it was the emails (and who knows what else). That’s part of why stalking needs to be more clearly defined and prosecutable- it’s not just the outcome of bodily harm or death that needs to be stopped, it’s the personal hell that victims go through during the whole ordeal that is truly awful as well.

  11. llevinso
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I see what you’re saying, but the idea of guns being allowed on campus makes me incredibly uneasy.

  12. ebsith
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    The police were interviewing everyone at the crime scene. I don’t think they were looking at anyone as a suspect. At that point, the only clues they had to go on as to who the shooter was, was a not-so-clear photo from the security cameras and Justin-Jinich stating that she did not recognize him right before she passed. It was only after having gotten in contact with the parents, having informed them, having waited for them to recover a little from the news, and then having them give a list of potential suspects, that they got his name. This was much, much after the shooting and long after Morgan had skipped town. What should they have done – held everyone in a jail cell who was a witness at Red and Black Café?
    It’s hard to accept that CSI and Law and Order and other such crime shows do not actually accurately describe how analyzing and dealing with a crime scene works, but the fact is they don’t. If the Middletown PD had the technology to run every single witness’s name through all of the databases everywhere with a cross-reference to Justin-Jinich, then they would have (probably) found the connection between her and Morgan immediately. But Middletown is not rich enough for that.
    Needless to say, the cops did as good a job as they could, in my opinion. And that is saying something, because I normally am very critical of police, and especially of the Middletown PD.

  13. WesGrad2
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    As a Wesleyan grad and father of a daughter who was harassed in college, I have followed this tragic story closely.
    Many of the details which have appeared in the press apparently come from the arrest warrant which can be seen here:
    http://www.courant.com/media/acrobat/2009-05/46804422.PDF
    Apparently the police officer who spoke with Stephen Morgan outside the crime scene did so before Johanna’s father named Morgan as a “person of interest”.
    By 4:15 pm Wednesday, less than three and a half hours after the murder, Morgan’s father identified his son Stephen as the disguised person carrying a gun in the cafe surveillance photo.
    The family issued statements asking Morgan to turn himself in. He did so about 10 pm Thursday at a convenience store about 10 miles from the Wesleyan campus.
    The actions of the police, Johanna’s family, Morgan’s family and the Wesleyan community prevented further compounding of this tragedy.

  14. ebsith
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I was still on campus when this happened, going through the last stages of moving out of my apartment and away from Wesleyan University for the last time (graduating). It has provoked such an intense mix of sadness, anger, and fear that they are difficult to sort out. Sadness for the life lost and the families suffering. Sadness about the gaping hole that has so suddenly been ripped open in the lives of Johanna’s friends and loved ones.
    Fear – The fear that kept us inside our dorms and houses, where boxed lunches were delivered to feed us. The fear that caused students flee campus. And the terror of being reminded, at our home away from home, that we are not safe. That there are those who believe their ‘right’ to you, to your body, to your mind, to your heart, trumps your right to your own decisions, to your own life.
    Anger at Stephen Morgan for brutally killing Johanna. And for thinking his need to “have” her superseded her right and need to live. A vacillation back and forth between feeling angry at his parents and siblings (“how can you not have seen it?” “how can you still say you support him?” “why did you shout out his name after the arraignment?” “why have you not yet disowned him?” ) and feeling sorry for them (because their family has also been destroyed and it must be terrible to realize that someone you hold dear has gone and committed such a heinous crime).
    I’m not sure if this makes sense. It’s long and very ad hoc.

  15. femme.
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    This is tragic. My condolences to Joanna’s family and friends, I’m sure this has been incredibly hard for them all, especially considering the news coverage. In response to the news coverage – I don’t appreciate how most mainstream news reports neglect to include that Joanna was a women’s rights advocate. And right on for calling out the Daily News. “Raven-haired stunner”? Are you serious??
    Qi – thank you for posting info about the GPS domestic violence laws. I can’t find too much news about them, besides a few news articles with lots of comments from people complaining about how “Big Brother” will use GPS tracking on anyone who has any kind of record if a bill like this passes. That’s not surprising but it is disheartening because I think it sounds like an effective tool for survivors to protect themselves from further attacks. This doesn’t control anyone’s movements in society and it doesn’t allow the government to track just anybody: this just helps prevent a stalker/abuser from violating a protection/restraining order by giving the survivor notification of their violation. I think a few minutes notice can often be the difference between life and death and this idea should be taken seriously.

  16. laurylen
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    As much as I hate the way stalkers are often eventually able to hurt and/or kill their victims, I do think GPS tracking of any person is a bad idea.
    Police need to enforce current stalking and domestic violence laws first. We need to strengthen weak laws next. We must convict and punish offenders, believe stalking victims when they feel unsafe, and do all of the other things we currently do not do, but could do… before we start using technology that will be abused. If police do not care when stalkers violate restraining orders, what difference will it make if we can better prove that they have violated them?

  17. cattrack
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Not as uneasy as Johanna and her family feel. Women, for that matter, people, need to be able to protect themselves. Taser, mace, pepper spray, whatever your personal preference, but people need to be able to shoulder the burden of their own defense when the police are unable, or unwilling, to do so.

  18. danielle
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    So they can know WHERE the person is. The law doesn’t keep a lot of these attackers away from the victim, but if they’re tracked, action could hopefully be taken a lot sooner.

  19. llevinso
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Do you know how Johanna’s family feels? Have you talked to them about this directly or are you just assuming they’d want students to be carrying around guns because their daughter was tragically murdered? Why don’t we leave them be and not speak for them.
    Look, like I said, I understand why you feel this way but I disagree and I don’t feel the same way. I, myself, am a rape survivor but I don’t want to go around carrying a gun. That’s me. I’d feel much more unsafe carrying a gun around and knowing that everyone around me was carrying one too. That’s not a world I want to live in.

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