When Rhode Islanders mention former Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fay, they often focus on the scandal that forced him to resign from the bench. His political friend and court administrator, former Speaker of the House Matthew J. Smith, was also involved in the court scandal which alleged, among other issues, misuse of court funds for personal expenditures.
Fay could be a fair and charming man. Smith was less charismatic: the rigid and religious political boss was known as a brutal dealmaker used to getting his way. Neither man was particularly fond of — nor embraced by — the feminist community for which I was an active advocate when they were both working at the high court on Benefit Street in the late 1980s.
They did, however, bring to the court system the first state monies for a domestic violence initiative, funding advocates to work with battered women (and men) in the fight against their battering partners.
I worked in that program during its earliest days as the supervisor of those hard-working advocates, under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That agency was, and remains, the leading resource in the Ocean State for victims of domestic violence — though the advocacy program is now functioning with a budget 60 percent lower than when I was there.
Just recently, Linda Impagliazzo, executive director of the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, and Lucy Rios, director of prevention at the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence issued a press statement that read in part: "Our hearts go out to the family, friends and community of Tracey Pytka. We are horrified and saddened by this act of domestic violence. Her tragic death, which is the 11th life lost to domestic violence this year in Rhode Island, is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieve a society free of domestic violence."
Pytka was a 38-year-old mother of three, found murdered in her Cumberland home just before Christmas. Her body was discovered by her teenage son. And her former husband, against whom she had a restraining order, was arrested shortly after that discovery. Neighbors and friends were unanimous in saying that Pytka had been in an abusive relationship for years.
On Christmas Day, East Providence police responded to a 911 call after Linda Silva found her daughter Staria Silva dead in her apartment, her twin nine-month-old infants crying on the floor nearby. Within hours, the police arrested the father of the twins, 35-year-old Raymond Grundy, who was found outside a psychiatrist's office in Warwick. Again, those who knew the couple seemed unanimous in recalling a relationship long marred by domestic violence.
The question raised by these two holiday tragedies, the 11 other domestic violence killings of 2010, and all who died before them, is why people wait until the victim is dead on the floor to speak out.
The laws put on the books at the time that Matty Smith and Justice Fay were funding innovative court programs to help stop these crimes allow state attorneys general to act on behalf of the state to prosecute batterers, even if victims do not come forward to press charges.