County marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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By Alexa McCarthy
Ingham County Chronicle

Sexual assault has seen a spark in public interest that is partially due to recent domestic violence incidents involving NFL players Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer that has thrust the issue into the public eye. It is a problem that many, including Mary Keef, executive director at Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, feel will no longer be brushed aside as it has in the past.

Evolved from the “Day of Unity” held in October 1981 and conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed in 1987.

Sara Marino looks on as friends and families of victims share their stories at a candlelight vigil, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Historical Center.

“It’s going to be more than just purple ribbons for us to make this big change and you’re witnessing that right now,” said Keef. “She explained that it’s not about the money, but rather the public awareness and a call for change that puts stricter policies in place.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. During one year, that equates to 10 million women and men.

Ingham County is not exempt from those numbers and has domestic abuse cases each year. Since December 2013, Lansing has had three deaths due to domestic violence.

Sara Marino looks on as friends and families of victims share their stories at a candlelight vigil, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Historical Center.

“The problem is very prevalent, and the numbers are high, at least for what is reported,” said Sara Marino, counseling intern for the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. “But I like to think we are on the forefront of being aware of domestic violence in our community, compared to rural communities, especially in our criminal justice system, we have a domestic violence unit and they are very involved in local organizations.”

The county has a number of resources for women and men if they find themselves in a situation in which their safety is threatened by a partner or family member. End Violent Encounters (EVE), was Lansing’s first domestic violence shelter and supportive services for survivors and their children. The non-profit organization has both a shelter and a 24-hour hotline (517-372-5572) and seeks to end domestic violence through public awareness and community outreach.

Rachel Berzack, community relations coordinator at EVE, said that interest in community awareness and prevention education services has increased over the past year.

“What really makes the biggest effect is not just talking about it, but small acts of kindness,” said Berzack. “Giving your time to the cause by simply volunteering with a shelter even for a short time [are] the types of things that go a long way, especially for a person in crisis that is often having to rebuild their life, often with nothing.”

Berzack said that as the public begins to have more open dialogue on the issue, what needs to be remembered are the victims and survivors in the center of it all. Social media has been a key element for voicing opinions and for survivors to tell their story. The Twitter hashtags, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have not only been used to educate the public that leaving an abusive relationship is complex but also to encourage survivors that they are not alone.

“It takes a lot of courage and bravery to even come out and talk about their story and share,” said Berzack. “We need to make sure everything we do and say about domestic violence is in the best interest of the survivors.”

To commemorate the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month the Michigan Women’s Historical Center held a candlelight vigil on Thursday Oct. 4, to honor survivors and those who have lost their lives to domestic violence. The candlelight vigil was a collaboration between EVE, Capitol Area Response Effort (CARE), MSU Safe Place, The Lansing Police Department, SIREN/Eaton Shelter and The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing.

The theme of the night was “Remember my Name.” A title meant to cement the idea that victims of domestic violence should not be forgotten so other people do not endure the same struggles.

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