Caroline Nosal. Madison, WI. 24 years old.
Janese Talton-Jackson. Pittsburgh, PA. 29 years old.
Mary “Unique” Spears. Detroit, MI. 27 years old.
Maren Sanchez. Milford, CT. 16 years old.
Whitney Jade Washuta. Los Angeles, CA. 25 years old.
Tiarah Poyau. Brooklyn, NY. 22 years old.
Andrea Farrington. Iowa City, IA. 20 years old.
All bright young women with a life rich with opportunity and potential laid ahead of them.
What do these seven women all share?
They were murdered at the hands of men who refused to take “no” for an answer.
All seven lives tragically taken since 2014 in the United States. It didn’t start with them, and if things keep going the way they are headed, it won’t end with them.
As a woman, I feel it is my responsibility to tell the stories of the women who are no longer with us to tell their truth as they lived it. They are your sisters, your friends, your neighbors, your aunts, your cousins. They are all of us, and we are them.
Women Who Died for Saying No
Caroline Nosal finished her shift in the produce department on a Tuesday night in 2014 at Metro Market on the far east side of Madison, Wisconsin. On her way to her car, she was approached by a former co-worker, Christopher O’Kroley who shot her in the head and abdomen. He had been suspended two weeks prior due to Caroline’s report to a store manager that Christopher was harassing her. He later told police that he set his deplorable plan in motion to kill Caroline following his suspension. He wanted to escalate their relationship beyond that of being co-workers. She did not. Following her murder, he had the audacity to tell the police that he would have killed her sooner but needed more time to “practice” shooting his gun he purchased for the sole purpose of murdering Caroline.
Janese Talton-Jackson was enjoying a Thursday night out at Cliff’s Bar in the Homewood part of Pittsburgh in 2016. She was a mother of three children. Charles Anthony McKinney set his sights on her and approached her. Janese wasn’t interested, and she left the bar soon after. He followed her out, grinded his body against her backside in a sexual way, and propositioned her once again. She responded by pushing him away, according to an eyewitness who worked at the bar. He responded by firing his gun into her chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene. She was only 29 years old.
Mary “Unique” Spears was attending a memorial service with her family at the American Legion Joe Louis Post No. 375 in Detroit in 2014 for a loved one who recently passed away. Mark Dorch repeatedly tried to talk to her throughout the memorial. Security personnel removed him from the event due to his constant harassment of Mary throughout the night. When Mary and her family members left the building at the end of the service, he approached her again and asked for her phone number. “I have a man. I can’t talk to you,” she explained, according to a family member who witnessed the altercation. He shot her once. Mary attempted to run away, and was shot another two times from behind. She was engaged to be married, and the mother of three small children. Mary was 27 years old.
Maren Sanchez was a 16-year-old student at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut. It was April 2014, and Maren was looking forward to her junior prom that Friday evening. Friends of Christopher Plakson, her murderer, say that he liked Maren “for a long time,” and felt entitled to her attention. Maren reported to her guidance counselor that Christopher was a dangerous individual to himself and others in November of 2013 when she discovered he was bringing knives to school and expressing suicidal thoughts. She was excited to attend Prom with her new boyfriend, and posted photos of herself in her Prom dress to her Facebook page. Christopher asked her to Prom on the morning of the scheduled event. She turned down his invitation. He stabbed her in the throat.
Whitney Jade Washuta was a 25-year-old woman walking her dog on a Tuesday night on Los Angeles’ Rosewood Avenue in 2017. She was recently broken up with her boyfriend of three years, Kyle Patrick Ramsey. She was ready to move on, but Kyle was not. Her sister told police that he called Whitney and even went so far as to show up at her home with flowers in an attempt to revive their relationship a few weeks earlier. He followed her as she was walking her dog that fateful Tuesday. Whitney’s sister told police that there were previous incidents of domestic violence in the relationship, but that Whitney never filed a police report. The details are unknown as to what transpired immediately prior to Kyle murdering Whitney, because the only witness was the murderer and he was found dead less than a mile away from Whitney’s body from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.
Tiarah Poyau was walking along the parade route at the J’Ouvert festival celebrating African Caribbean culture in Brooklyn, New York with some friends. She was a graduate student at St. John’s University. A man named Reginald Moise approached her and begin grinding on her. “Get off of me,” she said, asserting her right to not be groped. He shot her in the eye at close range. Tiarah Poyau had dreams to become an accountant, and was on her way to seeing those dreams come to fruition. She was only 22 years old.
Andrea Farrington was days away from her 21st birthday. She had landed her dream job working at a children’s museum at Coral Ridge Mall in Iowa City, Iowa in 2015. Alex Kozak was a fellow employee who worked as a mall security guard. Her friends were aware of his behavior, which was described as “scary and weird.” He left notes on her car, expressing his romantic interest in her. When the advances went unreciprocated, he approached Andrea while she was working at the mall’s information desk and shot her three times.
All of these women had their whole lives ahead of them, and were going on to do great things. Their lives were cut short because they said “no” to a man who would not hear it. To men who refused to be refused by these women.
These are not isolated incidents.
This is happening all over the world.
An International Epidemic
In the U.K, 19-year-old Shana Grice was murdered by her ex boyfriend Michael Lane. In the months prior, he installed a tracking device on her car. He called her over and over. She reported his stalking behavior to authorities, but neglected to mention her romantic past with Michael. She was issued a fixed penalty fine for “wasting their time” with complaints about a man she was previously romantically involved with. Five months later, she was murdered.
In Northern India, 25-year-old Kulwinder Kaur was performing a dance at a wedding. She had performed many times before, along with other women. Advances were considered the “norm,” and the dancers were told to just “ignore it,” and to continue performing. A man known as “Lucky Goyal” wanted to dance with her, and approached her. She refused his advances multiple times throughout the evening. He made one last attempt, and then he shot her in the head. Her lifeless body laid on the stage without any security personnel present. She was three months pregnant.
Then you have the women who managed to escape with their lives, but not without being viciously attacked first.
Parish Sashay was a comedian performing in Washington D.C. when a group of male hecklers began advancing on her after her set. When she made her disinterest clear to them, she was savagely beaten into unconsciousness.
Lakeeya Walker was beaten by a man while she was pregnant, for not saying “thank you” after he opened the door for her. He threw coffee in her face, punched her repeatedly and kicked her while screaming sexual demands at her and threatened to “kick her baby out of her womb.”
What about Raelynn Vincent, a 22-year-old-woman who was walking home from her boyfriend’s house on a Saturday night in Chico, CA? An unknown man driving by began catcalling her from his car. When Raelynn ignored him and continued walking, he stopped his car and approached her. He punched her in the face, breaking her jaw.
None of these women did anything wrong. They had a right to say no to these men. How have our boys and young men grown to believe that they can have whomever they want? That women are property, and a prize to be taken and done with as they please. I’m sure every woman has a story of a man who responded angrily after being rejected. It seems to be part of the universal female experience.
That is not okay.
How many of us have told a persistent man that we had a boyfriend, and only then did they respect our wishes? Why is this the go-to excuse for women who just want to be left alone? Because men respect another man’s “property” more than they respect a woman’s autonomy. Men are often perplexed when they hear that a woman has given a man who approached her a fake phone number.
“Why not just say no?” they ask.
We have said no.
Caroline, Janese, Mary, Maren, Whitney, Tiarah and Andrea all said “no.”
Let’s change the dialogue. Instead of asking us why we give a fake phone number, why not ask yourself why women feel that they have to give a fake phone number?
Because there is no way to predict how a man will respond to rejection in a society so infected by toxic masculinity and the normalization of rape culture.
Toxic Masculinity Breeds Violence
Toxic masculinity killed these women. It breeds violence and entitlement. It enables men to not take responsibility for their words and actions, and to extend the same lack of accountability to their fellow men.
Toxic masculinity tells young boys that they need to be men. That crying and showing feelings is bad, or even worse, it’s “girly.” Anything even remotely viewed as feminine is strongly discouraged. To a young boy, nothing is worse than being compared to a girl because a culture with deeply misogynistic roots taught them that girls are “weak,” “fragile,” and therefore “unworthy.” To be a man, you see what you want and you take it. Including women. Any woman. No woman is unattainable.
22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie was murdered by a fan during a “meet and greet” session with fans after a performance. Kevin Loibl traveled to Christina’s show in Florida in an attempt to win her over. When photos of Christina surfaced with another man on social media, he began his plan to travel from St. Petersburg, and murder Christina after her show in Orlando. She opened her arms to hug him when it was his turn in line at the “meet and greet”, and he fired four times. Her brother Marcus tackled him, and during the struggle the killer shot himself.
27 years earlier, 21 year old actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by obsessive fan Robert John Bardo after he watched a film with her featuring a scene where she was in bed with another male [actor]. To punish her for becoming “another Hollywood whore”, he paid a private investigator $250 to find Rebecca’s address from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. He made his third trip to Los Angeles and rang her doorbell. After a brief chat and an autograph, he left and had breakfast at a nearby diner. He returned later, removed a handgun from a paper bag and shot Rebecca the chest when she answered the door.
Another form of male entitlement we see in today’s society is that men are automatically deserving of sex, whenever and with whomever they want. These men blamed womankind for their lack of sexual “success” with women, yet another harmful message touted by toxic masculinity sent to boys and men: that their worth as a man lies with how many women they’ve “had.”
In 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured fourteen others in Isla Vista, CA. Why? Because he was a virgin. He decided to take revenge against the women who refused him, and the men who were achieving the success with women he felt he deserved, but always failed to attain. We learned all of this in his self-serving manifesto.
Just one year later, Ben Moynihan of Portsmouth, U.K. stabbed three women walking alone on separate occasions. In his note to the police taunting them to arrest him, he lamented that it was “heartbreaking” when “women don’t talk to you,” and that “all women need to die.” In a video that was discovered on his laptop, he talked about how “every girl is a type of slut” and that they are “fussy with men these days.” In a separate document, he wrote: “I attack women because I grew up to believe them a more weaker part of the human breed.” Among his possessions was a diary he aptly named his “diary of evil” in which he wrote that he planned to murder women “because of the life they gave” him. Like Elliot, Ben also lamented his virginity.
So what leads these men to believe they deserve a woman’s attention, time and affection and to react angrily when they don’t get what they feel is “owed” to them? Where did this come from?
What Can We Do?
Men, I ask you to:
- Challenge what you observe and what you hear from other men.
- Listen to the women in your life. Let their stories inspire you to be the best man you can be.
- Teach your sons that their value does not lie in how many women they have had sex with, but in the way they treat others through respect and kindness.
- If you witness another man catcalling or harassing a woman, tell them to stop it. Be the change, speak up. Catcalling is not a compliment, it’s a harsh reminder to women that our bodies do not belong to us, that they are for public consumption, that we are always a target for gender specific and sexual violence.
- I also ask that you remember these women, and not just for how they were taken from this world. Remember their names. Caroline. Janese. Mary. Maren. Whitney. Tiarah. Andrea. Remember their stories.
Women, I ask you to:
- Tell your own story.
- Tell the stories of the women whose lives were taken too soon.
- Challenge other women when they make excuses for inappropriate or abusive behavior.
- Challenge other women when you hear them make remarks of internalized misogyny.
- Examine the ways your own self-worth is related to misogynistic ideas.
- Support your fellow women; believe their stories and encourage one another to be brave.
I am 27 years old, and still working to unlearn every thing internalized misogyny has taught me about myself, and shaped my experience as a woman. We are spoon fed this idea from birth, that women are somehow inferior to men and therefore undeserving of equality. As young girls; we soak up this information and it not only leads to a lack of self-confidence and self-worth, but also a misunderstanding of who we are as a gender and a people.
This Is How We Begin
Something has to change, and will only change if we all take action on the issue of gender specific violence. Use your voice in any way that you you can, for yourself and for other women.
Why not start with distributing SAFE cards in areas that will be well-populated by women such as public bathrooms, on campus, or around your city?
Men, stand with us and pledge to use your voice and privilege to stop the harmful pattern of toxic masculinity and gender violence.
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
Join the Movement
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Ashley Hodge is a 20-something writer/musician and women’s rights activist. She is a former beauty/special FX makeup artist who put down the makeup brushes and raised her fist in solidarity to help fight the social injustices against women all over the world. When she’s not crusading for social justice and defeating bigotry in all its forms, she also enjoys feeding her soul with musical theatre, red lipstick and Ghirardelli brownies.