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Last Wednesday I walked with members of our community in the Annual Candlelight Vigil in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s saddening that we must walk each year, but heartening to see people join us every year for the walk through Union Square. We walked to remember those who have lost their lives over the last year to domestic violence, and to stand up together, to send a message to every victim: You are not alone. You are never alone.
That goes for all of us, even those who are not victims of domestic violence, but may recognize that someone is suffering abuse, whether physical or emotional. None of us should be afraid to help our friends and loved ones when we suspect they may be in an abusive relationship. You are not alone either, because the support you need to help your loved ones is there.
We have seen encouraging trends in Massachusetts over the past few years, with the number of domestic violence deaths dropping significantly from a peak of 47 in 2007, according to data from Jane Doe Inc. But one death is one too many. Last year in Massachusetts, there were 14 cases of domestic violence that ended in murder. So far this year, there are 10. That’s far too many.
Last year’s National Census of Domestic Violence Services found on one day in Massachusetts that 1,752 victims received services from domestic violence programs. That’s 1,752 victims—in one day. Also on that one day, there were 443 unmet requests for services—including transportation, childcare and legal representation—that could not be provided because those domestic violence programs did not have the resources to offer these services. Eighty-six percent of the unmet requests were for housing, either emergency shelter or transitional housing.
We have to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the support they need immediately, and that domestic violence programs have the resources they need to provide that support. In Somerville, our Police Department has a domestic violence advocate for a special unit dedicated to domestic violence. Our Somerville Women’s Commission, which organizes the Annual Candlelight Vigil each year, focuses on ending violence and empowering women. We’re so fortunate to have advocates and support from local organizations like RESPOND Inc., which has a 24-hour hotline at 617-623-5900 and offers individual counseling and support groups, assistance to victims needing necessities such as food and clothing, legal support for victims and so much more.
But we’ll never end this devastating crime, still at epidemic levels, until we change our culture. We need to go to the root of the problem. We need to educate our kids. We need to support families. We need to end abuse of drugs and alcohol, which is closely linked to domestic violence. And we must ingrain in each and every person one fundamental truth: Violence is never the choice.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. It can happen between straight couples or gay couples, between family members of all ages and to people from all backgrounds. No one should feel ashamed or afraid to seek help.
But the statistics are clear: The vast majority of victims are women. Nearly all killers of both men and women are men. One in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. Too many suffer quietly through long-term abuse.
Men, it is up to us to stop this epidemic. It is up to us to teach our children and set the example for them. It is up to us to instill in our children, our friends and our families the message: Violence is never the choice.
One death is too many. One assault is too many. One home where a member is suffering abuse is too many. And too few receive help. Too few victims seek support from domestic violence programs. Too few perpetrators participate in intervention programs.
So we walked last Wednesday solemnly to remember those tragically lost but also to stand up today and then every day to say: You are not alone. You are never alone. Do not be silent. You should never fear to seek the help you need. We are here, and we stand together, with you and by you, until we end this epidemic.
For phone numbers, resources and information on domestic violence, please visit the Somerville Police Department’s webpage on domestic violence resources. Confidential assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the state’s Safelink hotline at 1-877-785-2020 or RESPOND Inc. in Somerville at 617-623-5900. The Somerville Police Victim Advocate can be reached at 617-625-1600 ext. 7279.