Wilkinson works to stop dating violence

William Lee

Melody Wilkinson, advocate for stopping teen dating violence, spoke to a packed audience Tuesday night at the McDonough County Courthouse.Wilkinson was part of a panel discussion about dating violence, hosted by Western Illinois Regional Council Victim Services as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Wilkinson’s 14-year-old daughter Melinda was murdered by 16-year-old David Ryan Huffman in 1995. Huffman currently is serving a 38-year sentence.

Wilkinson said despite her healing, she cannot forgive Huffman for his crimes. “I have struggled with it for the last four years. How can I ever forgive him?” Wilkinson said. “The Lord may be able to help me forgive him, but I don’t think my heart will actually ever forgive him.”

The crowd composed of parents, college and high school students listened as Wilkinson spoke. She often became upset while discussing events such as Melinda’s first date with Huffman and reading letters Huffman sent to Melinda.

“I can’t talk about some things that happened,” Wilkinson said. To bring home the point that anyone is at risk, Wilkinson talked about her daughter, portraying her as an average teenager and emphasizing the warning signs of an abusive relationship. “

(Girls,) whether 14 or 18, you can still end up in a controlling relationship,” Wilkinson said. “Women that are 30 are in controlling relationships. I hope that they see the signs of a controlling relationship from what a good, happy relationship really is.”

“When people think of dating violence, they think of people who are older, married and have children. They don’t think of someone 14 or 15 years old,” Suzan Nash, assistant director of the WIRC Domestic Violence office, said. Wilkinson also explained signs of dating violence.

A partner’s jealousy and possessiveness are the most common, but other signs include being pressured into having sex, receiving threats and promises and being made to feel guilty about the abuser’s behavior by the abuser.

“The scary thing about dating violence that we’ve talked about tonight is the fact that one out of five college students is in a violent relationship,” Nadine Hume, an educator at the WIRC Domestic Violence office, said. “This can be emotional, it can be physical, it can be sexual.”

After Wilkinson answered audience questions, three survivors of dating violence each told their stories of abuse and eventual escape. Perhaps the most intense of the three was Niesha Shaw. Shaw, a Macomb native, entered an abusive relationship at 18, and despite attempts to avoid it, was continuously stalked by her boyfriend.

Shaw said she hopes more laws will be legislated to give protection to battered wives and girlfriends. “I really hope more people get involved and more laws change, because there’s basically nothing in the law books … it’s even worse that you would be hurt by someone who (supposedly) loves you,” Shaw added.