Demi Brae Cuccia’s Story

By Steve Helmeci
July 8, 2013

MONROEVILLE, Pa. – Pictures of a young girl flash up on the projector screen hanging in the auditorium. As Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” plays in the background, the sad story of Demi Brae Cuccia is relayed to 300 or more people. Video clips of shocked friends and members of the Gateway community talking about Demi’s kind demeanor or love for life cycle between more pictures of the girl. A few news clips offer some explanation of the tragic night, but the true story isn’t fully explained. Eventually, text comes over a photo of Demi that describes her horrible premature passing.

From the raw emotion conveyed in the video, it felt as though she passed yesterday, not a whole five years ago.

But that was only the beginning of the presentation.

On Aug 15, 2007, Demi, a Junior at Gateway High School at the time, allowed her ex-boyfriend, John Mullarkey, to come over and talk. Perhaps she expected a small altercation, but not what would happen next. Nobody would expect what happened next.

In what is believed to be a premeditated assault, Mullarkey pulled a knife on Demi and attacked her, stabbing Demi 16 times. Somehow, Demi was able to escape the house, where she collapsed on a neighbor’s lawn. One of the lacerations severed a major artery in Demi’s shoulder, causing her to bleed to death that night. It was the day after he she turned 16.

Nobody becomes a parent expecting to have to bury their child someday. But, Dr. Gary Cuccia had to bury his daughter, a “beautiful girl [who] loved everybody.”

“You never want to walk in my shoes,” Cuccia said. “It’s one of those clubs you never want to be a member of.”

Cuccia is the head of the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization, which he founded in his daughter’s memory with the goal of educating high school students about the perils of teen dating violence. On May 2, he came and gave his presentation, including the sobering video, to Mt. Lebanon High School freshmen and sophomores.

Immediately after Demi’s death, however, Cuccia took an activist path. He worked to champion a bill in the state House of Representatives that mandated teen dating violence education in all Pennsylvania high schools in honor of Demi. Despite the passing of House Bill 2026, Cuccia calls the process a “nightmare.”

“I was so frustrated with the legislators,” Cuccia said. “We mailed a letter to every state representative; there’s 214 state representatives and 50 senators. That’s a lot of legislators. We got four responses back.”

Although Representative Scott Conklin (D) of Centre County agreed to sponsor the bill, the headaches were only beginning for Cuccia.

“The problem with legislation is, once there’s a bill that is getting a lot of attention, it’s gaining momentum, a lot of legislators want to attach something to it, because they think, ‘this is how I can get my agenda passed,’” Cuccia said.

After his frustrating and draining battle to get his daughter’s legislation passed, Cuccia changed tactics, despite offers to aid in federal legislation. He said, “Then I thought, I have to do something. I have to share Demi’s message to high school students.”

Though Cuccia acknowledged the importance of the legislation, he realized “it’s just not as important as I had [thought] initially.”

Cuccia knew he needed a way to get Demi’s story directly to students, to teach them that dating violence is real and prevalent. That was the beginning of the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization.

Cuccia says that, after more than 50 presentations to approximately 40,000 high school students, the presentations can take their toll.

“I get emotionally drained,” Cuccia said. “I pour my heart out when I’m speaking to you guys. I just really want my daughter’s story to resonate so that it makes a difference.”

Cuccia says that it makes him uncomfortable to do more than one presentation in a day. He has tried to do three in a day, but physically cannot do it. There are only so many times in one day he can talk about his daughter.

It is Cuccia’s belief that hearing his daughter’s story will have a more profound impact on the students he speaks to. “A health teacher can have a lesson on [dating violence], but I think it’s more powerful to see my daughter, and to feel her story,” he said.

Cuccia touched on a number of points during his presentation, but, for those who weren’t able to see it, he has one piece of advice for all teens: “If you think you’re in a controlling, abusive relationship, be extra careful in taking steps to get out of it. Do it in a public setting around friends; do not allow yourself to be put in a situation where you’re alone,” he said.

For more information about Demi or the organization, scan the QR code, go to www.demibrae.com or “like” The Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Foundation’s Facebook page.

A Closer Look at the Problem of Teenage Pregnancy

By Wendy Garcia
July 5, 2013
Commentary

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The belly by koalie, CC-BY-2.0.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Teenage pregnancy is a huge problem for our generation. A lot of teens are getting pregnant at an early age — the Los Angeles Times reports that around 400,000 American teens age 15-19 have babies every year — which can interrupt a girl’s plans and school attendance. It can also cause the teen stress and possibly depression, especially when thinking about how to break the news to everyone who cares about her.

Rather than thinking about what she was going to do after school and going out to have fun, the teen instead must worry about taking care of the baby and whether she can make enough money to support her child. Most teenage pregnancy is unplanned, which can cause major problems for the teen and the baby if she is not ready to become a parent.

Some teens do not know how to take care of themselves yet and still need their parents’ help. If a teen is not ready for a child, the mother may not know how to care for the baby, which can result in bad parenting.

At school I see many pregnant teens and think to myself, “Poor girl, she doesn’t know what she just got herself into.” Pregnancy can affect a teen most negatively when her peers make fun of or talk bad about her. This could lead to depression, or she might try to hurt herself or her baby. She might also think that no one will help her.

The teen might be scared, but if she is willing to get help, she can become informed about the baby’s health and how to best take care of the baby.

Teenage pregnancy is a serious issue, but a teen mom who may not seem mature can learn how to take care of and support her child, especially with the guidance of an adult or an organization, such as Project NATEEN at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, designed to help young parents take care of their babies — and themselves.

Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Lost Girls

By Faria Athar
August 21, 2012

NEW DELHI, India – Female feticide, the practice of aborting a female fetus, is increasing in India with improved access to gender tests and continued preference for male children.

Determining a fetus’ gender was once only an option for the rich because it was expensive. For those who did not want a girl but could not afford such testing, the alternative was female infanticide: the killing of a female infant. But both practices raise the same question: Why don’t Indians want female children?

The issue is in striking contrast to the fact that Indians worship many goddesses and praise them for their beauty and benevolence. The goddesses form an integral part of Indian culture and are always honored. And yet, more than a million female fetuses are aborted annually in India, according to an article published in 2010 in the journal Issues in Law & Medicine.

According to the article, exorbitant dowry rates are probably the most potent cause of female feticide. Men are considered the breadwinners of the family, and it is believed that male children contribute money to the family, while female children cost the family a lot of money.

During a marriage, the bride’s parents are expected to pay the groom in either cash or property for marrying their daughters. What started as a rupee or two has now become thousands and millions of rupees.

Except for a few states in India, Indian society is patriarchal, and family lineage and inheritance are passed down to the male child, while girls are considered financial burdens who are born just to get married.

Nikita Bharti, a 10th grade student, believes that she has been discriminated against because of her gender.

“They (her grandparents) never liked me because I was a girl. I mean my grandmother, when my brother was born, she had a huge celebration and inconsolably thanked god, but when I was born they did nothing for me. They were rather sad and did not even come to receive me,” Bharti said.

The feelings Bharti expresses have much broader implications. According to an article in The Hindu from May 27, 2012, an infant girl was beaten and ultimately killed by her vengeful father who intended it to be his hate reply to his wife for giving birth to a girl. The father later confessed his crime and was arrested.

The Indian government introduced the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996 and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971 to curb female feticide and infanticide. However, in 2007, Reuters reported that the United Nations estimates approximately 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.

Meanwhile, the number of girls born in India is falling. In 2011, the ratio of female children to males born was 914 to 1000, compared with 933 to 1000 in 2001, according to the Census of India.

It is believed that female feticide started in cities, not in villages. An Indian reality show, “Satyamev Jayate,” highlighted the case of one such woman, Dr. Meetu Khurana, who is a doctor from an affluent family of orthopedics and professors from the capital city of Delhi.
She refused to do a sex determination test, so her husband’s family plotted against her and got the test done under the guise of a kidney scan. The test results said she had twin girls in her womb, after which her family ordered her to abort them. She refused and gave birth to her daughters, although her husband’s family had never accepted them at the time of the television show.

Free Hugs Draw Large Crowds in Ho Chi Minh City

By Long Nguyen
September 03, 2009
freehugslong2HO CHIMINHCTY, Vietnam – Standing outside Ho Chi Minh City’s Opera House on July 31, Doan Quang, 19, a student at the city’s International University, was happy to announce that in 30 minutes he had hugged around nine people. But he also admitted that he was turned down by 15. At first, he was ashamed. “But then I got used to it. I believe the next person will be glad to hug me,” he added. This was the spirit of the Free Hugs campaign, which brought together more than 200 students, residents and visitors on a Sunday morning.

The “Free Hugs” campaign was started by an Australian, Juan Mann. After going through a personal upheaval in England, he returned to his hometown and felt extremely lonely. He carried a sign saying “Free hugs” and wandered around public places, offering hugs to passers-by. A clip of him hugging people was captured by his friends and attracted 7 million views on YouTube in the first two months. This campaign was then adopted in large parts of the US, Sweden, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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The July event in Ho Chi Minh City kicked off in front of the City Opera House, the commercial center of the city that also attracts many tourists. The “huggers” then walked along nearby streets, holding high their self-designed “Free Hugs” signs,which were written in English and Vietnamese.

This campaign was organized by three students, who got plenty of responses from youth through their blogs. One of the organizers, Nhan Thanh, 20, said that there were two purposes for the campaign. First, it aimed to help Vietnamese people get closer and become more open with each other. Secondly, he wished to deliver a friendly image of the Vietnamese people to foreign tourists.

As the students walked around, hugs were shared with many people, especially street vendors and newspaper sellers. Le Chi, a street vendor, said that she was moved when she was hugged by not only one but many huggers. On being asked when she was last hugged, she could not remember because “it was so long ago.”

freehugslong4One elderly woman showed great interest in the signs, but said that she was illiterate. A hugger then approached her and explained what they were doing. And another warm, loving hug was soon delivered.

The crowd and the signs attracted the attention of manyforeigners. Many of them stopped to take photographs and joined in the hugging. Michael Mann, 28, an American photographer, wrapped up his feelings in one word: “Happiness.” Other foreigners thought that it was “very nice” to be hugged by so many Vietnamese youth on the street and added that it was “a terrific idea.”

While hugging an elderly man, one of the participants, Dang Hung, was asked: “Are you Japanese?” According to Hung, this question came up because it rare for Vietnamese people to hug each other. So the man thought he wasn’t from Vietnam.

There were, however, some reluctant participants too. One woman even “threatened” that “you’ll get into trfreehugslong5ouble if you dare to hug me.” Vinh Ba, 72, said that the Vietnamese still think like some decades ago and do not usually show their affection. According to him, hugs are for lovers only.

Minh Tuan, 19, said that he had hugged many people during the campaign. But he added that he did not show this at kind of affection toward his family members very often. “Hopefully, there will be a big change after today,” he said.