Creating a culture of belief

In the United States, around 20 people are abused by an intimate partner per minute, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence — a statistic that translates to more than 10 million men and women each year.

Lauren McCluskey was one of these people.

McCluskey, a 21-year-old Pullman native and University of Utah fourth-year student, died Oct. 22 at the hands of her former boyfriend, Melvin Rowland, a 37-year-old registered sex offender, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Rowland shot her before later killing himself, stashing her body in a car. The track and field athlete was on the phone with her mother at the time of her death.

McCluskey ended their one-month relationship after she learned Rowland had lied about his name, age and criminal history. He pled guilty to attempted forcible sex abuse and enticing a minor over the internet in 2003.

She reported Rowland began to harass her, threatening to release private photos if she didn’t pay him $1,000 — which she complied to out of fear.

McCluskey filed an official report Oct. 13 and told campus police, who informed her they couldn’t do much. She was slain nine days later.

Olivia Heersink | Argonaut

The ripples of domestic violence were felt even closer to home in August 2011 with the death of Katy Benoit.

Benoit, a graduate student studying psychology, was shot 11 times by former UI professor Ernesto Bustamante with a .45 caliber handgun, according to court documents.

She was standing on the front porch of her Moscow home around 8:30 p.m., having stepped out for a cigarette only moments before she was murdered. Benoit died before police arrived.

The next day, Bustamante’s body was found in a room at the Best Western Plus University Inn. He had killed himself.

The pair had been romantically involved months prior, but Benoit ended the relationship in March of that year after he threatened her multiple times with a gun. She later filed a report against him with Moscow Police and the university in June.

Bustamante, who took medication for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, soon resigned after Benoit came forward. His time at the university lasted around 4 years.

UI officials met with Benoit and said Bustamante would no longer be at the university and recommended she call the police if she felt threatened. She was killed later that day.

In both cases, these women were failed by the very institutions tasked with keeping them safe. Had officials acted differently, they might still be alive.

Domestic violence is an insidious problem affecting people across the globe — it’s time we take it seriously.

If these incidents in Moscow and Salt Lake City weren’t so public, I wonder if we would’ve even heard about them to begin with, especially since so many cases go unreported.

These men were absolute cowards, and there are thousands of people just like them in the world, who will continue to inflict pain on others until we do something.

No one should have to suffer at the hands of someone they once trusted or manipulated them into doing so.

We need to start believing people who come forward — something not easy to do in the first place — and make strides toward protecting them, putting an end to these cycles of violence.

Olivia Heersink can be reached at or on Twitter @heersinkolivia


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