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Student's 1997 death stirs talk on gender violence

BY ALEX GARIVALTIS
For the Daily
Published October 13, 2004

Tamara Williams, a Detroit native, was poised to finish a
general studies degree at the University in the fall of 1997 when
she was fatally stabbed by her boyfriend.

Laura Wong
Keynote speaker Deborah Billings discusses global violence against women yesterday at the Tamara Williams Memorial Lecture in East Hall. (EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily)

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Many women are killed by their partners like Williams, but an
organization is proposing a plan to reduce gender-based violence.
Yesterday more than 80 students and area residents honored her at
the Tamara Williams Memorial Lecture in East Hall’s first
floor auditorium. A sequence of local news clips from the day of
Williams’s death set the tone for the lecture, reminding the
audience of the profound effect her murder had on the
community.

The lecture, “Gender Based Violence Throughout Our
World,” was delivered by Deborah Billings, a University alum.
Billings, a senior associate in research and evaluation for the
international health organization Ipas, said “violence
against women is a problem that cuts across disciplines.”

Billings, who coordinates action and intervention research on
sexual violence, abortion and reproductive health, outlined a
three-point “proposal for action” aimed at a global
reduction in gender-based violence. Her proposal takes careful note
of the public health risks and human rights violations that
accompany the global problem of gender-based violence.

“(Gender-based violence) is one of the most explicit
manifestations of gender inequity and inequality in the world ... I
want to thank feminists around the world for creating the concept
of gender,” she said.

One and a half million American women are raped or assaulted by
an intimate partner each year, Billings said. She added that 33
percent of American women murdered each year are killed by their
sexual partners.

Williams had pressed charges against her boyfriend but they
continued to share Family Housing on North Campus with their
daughter.

Billings also disparaged practices of sexual initiation
widespread in many nations, in which she said a startling number of
women’s first experiences with sex are involuntary.

Billings participates in a broad set of efforts aimed at curbing
gender-based violence on an international scale. She has advocated
major change in medical and nursing curricula around the globe.

But yesterday Billings emphasized that such work is just the tip
of the iceberg. “There’s no one solution, and
we’re not going to find it anytime soon,” she said.

Williams’s daughter, father, and grandfather were in
attendance.

To end the lecture, the floor was ceded to any member of the
family that wished to speak. After a brief pause, Williams’s
father took the podium.

“I didn’t come prepared to give a speech, but I
appreciate you keeping my daughter’s spirit alive,” he
said.