Memorializing Melanie: From pain to purpose

The Remnants of Femicide
In 2019, when I moved down the street from Melanie (left), we often found ourselves at Harlem Nights, a bar in Harlem, New York, known for its music and fun crowd.
In 2019, when I moved down the street from Melanie (left), we often found ourselves at Harlem Nights, a bar in Harlem, New York, known for its music and fun crowd.
Leilany Sosa

Home is far from a safe haven.

According to a press release in November 2023 from UN Women, roughly 55% of all female homicides have been committed by someone they knew. This depicts the reality that home may not be the safe place we’ve always believed.

That statistic just became a reality for my friend Melanie, and I am so f*cking angry. 

If Melanie was known for anything it was her hair. Her curls were her own personal crown, and they were almost as big as her personality. Her laugh was contagious, showing off her bright smile accompanied by her hazel eyes and signature eyeliner. She loved to dance and sing karaoke. 

We would frequent a bar down my street called Harlem Nights, and we would stroll in yelling out for our favorite bartender Brandon, him turning to us laughing and asking, “Why the fu*k do you keep coming back?” So many nights drinking grapefruit juice with Titos and a splash of lime, dancing to the best of old school Hip Hop and R&B. 

I had the privilege of meeting Melanie through my wonderful friend Magali at a pub in New York. Magali, a friend of mine from high school, met Melanie while they were both at UCLA. Magali was visiting New York looking at schools and invited me out to meet up with her and some friends from college. That’s when Melanie and I were introduced and a friendship sparked.

Melanie was self aware, and stood tall in her beliefs. A feminist, ally and a safety net for many. We could always count on each other to be running late whenever we would meet up and never missed out on an opportunity to gossip about Love Island. She was the most competitive “noncompetitive” person who you definitely wanted on your team. She loved New York and explored it in all the ways one could. I’ve been having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she would lose her life in a city she was so enamored with. 

I left New York the day after a state of emergency was declared at the beginning of the pandemic, where in turn Mel was put straight to work with NYC Test and Trace Corps and at the CDC Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Response. I would come back for one day a couple of months later to clear my apartment and leave New York for good. Melanie showed up to drop off a card and say goodbye. A year later she came out to California to meet up with me and some of my girlfriends for a trip to Lake Tahoe. We had an amazing weekend with so many laughs, both of us losing our voices a bit but enjoying every second of that trip. Melanie was originally from the Sacramento area and I dropped her off with her sister-in-law on my way back to the Bay. Little did I know, that would be the last time I would see and hug my friend. We talked about future trips to Miami or walking El Camino one summer. One of my last texts to Mel was about me trying to visit New York this summer. Those future trips and long-awaited reunions will never happen now.

Melanie loved her Pitbull Dahlia. In an Instagram post, Melanie said, “[Dahlia] is the light of my life and I couldn’t be more thankful for the very moment I saw her little face on the rescue website.” (Courtesy Melanie Woods)

Melanie attended UCLA, majoring in Communication Studies, and later received her Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. Before that, she worked for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation as associate director of events. More recently, she was a senior project manager for Healthcare Improvement at NYC Health + Hospitals.

She had a profound love for Africa, a country she felt lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work in. A Broadway and musical aficionado, she kept a tradition of getting a new ear piercing every year on her birthday, and she was the best mom to her Pitbull Dahlia; who unofficially was her favorite thing to post on Instagram. Just scrolling through her page you can see her love and affinity for dogs, travel, human rights and cake.

It’s been surreal reading all of the comments on her GoFundMe page. Descriptions of Melanie everywhere talking about her vibrant and bubbly self. Comment after comment on how they met her, and how glad they were to have known someone like her. Whether it was meeting on trips to Ghana during their Masters or knowing her from their time together at UCLA. Remembering her talking about how she would need time off to cry after dropping off her foster dog Willa, and all of the comments regarding her love for adventure, laughs, and “bonds over bagels and bunnies.”

The GoFundMe page was made to help bring her home to California and to help her family retrieve her belongings. It’s only been up for a few days and people have already quadrupled the original goal of $10,000. That’s how much people loved her. 

Melanie had been living in New York for several years now and was supposed to have been flying home to California for a visit the day her life was stolen. Magali was going to pick her up at SFO, but instead she was left to deliver the worst news to many including myself. Magali and Melanie were like sisters, recently talking about what life would be like when they were in their 60s. I grieve for the void this will now leave in her life.  

Melanie was very vocal about her beliefs, especially women’s rights. In 2018, Melanie (left) and Magali (right) were at the Women’s March in San Fransisco. (Courtesy Magali Limeta)

Would you rather be stuck in the woods with a man or a bear?

As a woman, I’ve consumed more than my fair share of true crime. Through countless TV shows, podcasts and films, but it had never seeped into my reality. It was always something distant, maybe a friend of a friend of a friend, but it had never hit home until now. 

As women, we know the precautions: Grip your keys tightly when you’re walking alone at night, carry pepper spray, a taser, and a knife on hand, cover your drink at the bar, don’t take drinks from strangers, stay in pairs, make sure friends and family know where you are at all times, share your location when you’re on a run and carry bear spray while hiking – not just for bears, but the other type of predators too. The men we have yet to meet but already fear. 

If you’ve been on TikTok lately then you know the recent question circulating: would you rather be stuck in the woods with a man or a bear? “A bear!” all of the women say. Why wouldn’t they? If we’ve learned anything, you might be able to make it out unscathed if you come into contact with one. The bear might let you pass, could be disinterested…if only we could say the same about the men we’ve encountered.

Femicide: the intentional gender-related killing of women and girls.

In multiple countries in Latin America and other nations, the term femicide helps as a way to track violent crimes against women. It’s a matter of public health, and they do so to prevent possible future crimes. The U.S., unfortunately, has yet to follow suit. Here in the states, there isn’t a separate penal code for gender-based killings, making these crimes harder to track.

The statistics are very clear. In the U.S. alone, every day almost three women are killed by their current or former partner. According to Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national nonprofit educational organization, “Of all intimate partner female homicides in 2018, 92% of victims were killed by a man they knew, and 63% were killed by current husbands, boyfriends, or ex-husbands”. 

In an article released by the National Library of Medicine in February, researchers called for action to urge the U.S. to legally define femicide. Their three calls of action are to legally define it in penal code, to improve the accuracy of data including perpetrators, and to be able to separate data to include a person’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, ethnicity and country of origin.

In May of 2023, The White House released the first-ever U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action. Courtesy The White House

What can be done?

Share their stories. I want people to know and remember Melanie for all of the good she brought into this world and how much she loved to help others. Her story doesn’t need to end as a sad tale but can go on to have a much greater purpose. A way for Melanie to continue to help those in need. 

Enact Policies. Even though femicide still isn’t defined by a penal code in the U.S., it doesn’t mean that actions aren’t taking place. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994 and reauthorized in 2022. It helps to support responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Last year the White House released its first ever U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. The plan is broken down into seven pillars: prevention; support, healing, safety, and well-being; economic security and housing stability; online safety; legal and justice systems; emergency preparedness and crisis response; and research and data.

Make your voice heard. Call your local representatives and lawmakers to help the push in affirming new policies and laws. If you don’t know how to find them, go to Common Cause and find your representatives at the local, state and federal level. Make your voice heard when it comes to issues such as gender-based violence. Social change requires all of us. Your vote can have a huge impact on the policy and programming needed to end femicide. 

The Social Change. What happened to my friend is not ok, and we need change. So, how did we get here, and where do we go? Gender norms have plagued us for centuries. The issue of equality, or for women, lack of, has created the epidemic we find ourselves in now. We have to change the attitudes in our communities, within our families and amongst our friends. Equality is a human right and women still find themselves at the bottom of the well. It’s important to start reframing the old narrative of gender roles, specifically in the way of expectations. Men no longer need to carry the role of provider, but partner. Instead of trying to influence from control, learn to activate cooperation and support. We can support men and have those open conversations about masculinity and violence, but we need them to step up to the table, equally. Programs such as MenEngage Alliance are working to combat gender-based violence and transform patriarchal cultural practices.

Support. We need support from all groups, from boys to men, non-binary, gender fluid and allies of all walks. From believing women to donating or volunteering for organizations that pledge to end gender-based violence, there are many ways to help. Click on the link for a list of U.S. National Organizations and Projects to follow and contribute to, and for more information on local resources visit the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

One last act

I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with someone like Mel. I was reading through our old texts and I came across one I sent to her thanking her for the card she gave me when I left New York. I told her it was going to be a keepsake, and that she was such a highlight of that city for me, and she will always be.

In October 2019, Melanie and I got brunch the day after my 30th birthday at Yatenga French Bistro in Harlem, New York. (Leilany Sosa)

The thought of any act of violence against her doesn’t make sense in my mind and never will, but here we are. She was such an advocate for the rights of many, but especially for women. Knowing that someone like Melanie could have lost their life to femicide feels like the biggest slap in the face.

Guilt remains since I heard of her passing, as I’m sure many of her friends and family can relate. We should have reached out more, wish we had done so. Melanie knew she was loved, that I’m sure of and have found some comfort in. What’s left in the pieces will hopefully be turned to purpose, a last act for her. 

Melanie is one step closer to being reunited with her family. Multiple services will be held around the country for her loved ones to come together and celebrate her life. 

Many organizations and shelters are helping in the fight against gender-based violence, please consider donating on behalf of Melanie. Or volunteer at your local animal shelter and maybe even consider becoming a foster parent like her.  

Until we’re dancing again Mel.

(September 1, 1990 – April 23, 2024)


If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or seek help from your local police.


Other resources include:

WARM (We All Really Matter)

Safe Horizon: Moving Victims of Violence from Crisis to Confidence

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Urban Resource Institute: The First Family and Pet-Friendly Shelter

LifeWire: Accessible, Inclusive and Survivor-Focused Advocacy

Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV)

Kathy’s Legacy Foundation: Hope for the Victim’s, Childrens, and Pets

Futures Without Violence: Supporting All Survivors Worldwide              

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About the Contributor
Leilany Sosa
Leilany Sosa, Reporter
Leilany Sosa (She/Her) is a digital journalism/digital filmmaking major in her third semester at SRJC. She enjoys staying up to date with the news, loves stories showcasing humanity at its best and has a deep interest in documentary filmmaking.

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  • C

    CaroMay 18, 2024 at 9:41 am

    Freefrom is another really great organization helping employers be prepared to help those in situations of Intimate Partner Violence, including pay equity and relocation costs

  • L

    Lisette Alverio PerezMay 18, 2024 at 5:24 am

    Thank you Leilany for not only a heartwarming story about a special friendship, but also helping us see the reality and tragedy of femicide. Thank you once again for an amazing piece of journalism….