community, health

Day of Unity in Montclair. Kind of.

Banner at UUCM

So the National Day of Unity has come and gone and the event that I had planned for Montclair, NJ was not a blazing success.  Only a few people showed up and because of this they just wanted to go home.  I was very disappointed.  I had set high expectations.  I mistakenly thought that just because women across the globe were willing to risk 140 characters on Twitter that local women would be biting at the bit to share their stories in front of a microphone. Well, I was wrong.

I am trying to stay positive though. Just because people didn’t come doesn’t mean that people weren’t inspired to make a change in their lives. On Monday the event was shared 13 times on Facebook (by people and organizations I don’t know), shared in 5 different countries, and several U.S. states, getting over 200 likes. That means that that many people stopped for a moment to recognize the prevalence of domestic violence in their communities. The point was to raise awareness, and we did that. The event continues to be shared on Facebook so maybe it will inspire other people to hold similar events.

Since Monday, I have had some time to think more about where I want this to go and how I want my voice to be heard. The shape is coming along and I may have firmer ideas to share in the coming days and weeks. I am also going to put a face to my voice and tell my story on this site. My reason for not doing so has been time constraints trying to work, fulfill other commitments to community and family, and plan Monday’s event. I have more time to dedicate to this vision in broad terms now and am really excited about it.

Below you will find my opening remarks and the letter I received from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical domestic violence during their lifetime. Women are more likely to suffer serious injury or be killed by an intimate partner than men. Domestic Violence touched my life at a young age. As a little girl I remember sitting with my sisters upstairs as we listened to our father screaming at our mother while he threw anything that was in reach in her direction. I don’t know how often he beat her or how many times it took her to try to leave, the average woman makes 7 attempts to get out, but she eventually did and I am certain that she saved my life by doing so. My mother says she didn’t know it but at the time her abuser was also sexually abusing at least one of her three daughters, me. Though I felt very alone during this time, I was not. Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes. These children suffer abuse or neglect at rates of 30% to 60%.

We are lucky to live in a time, twenty years after the passing of the Violence Against Women Act, when violence against adult women is down over 60%. We are lucky to live in a state where our state Assembly unanimously passed a six bill package just last month which if signed into law would transform the way New Jersey’s justice system addresses domestic violence. This legislation is currently being reviewed by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. I was disgusted, however, to learn that despite video evidence of a brutal attack, a public figure was given only pretrial intervention with the requirements of anger management counseling and probationary supervision for a year after knocking his then fiancée unconscious in an elevator, here in our state. Studies have shown that general anger management is not an effective tool in treating the domestic abuser. These perpetrators need to go to a batterer intervention program, counseling for people who hit their partners as opposed to getting into a fight at a bar. Batterer intervention focuses on why an abuser does not control the impulse toward violence against a partner. It’s not anger that is at the core of domestic violence, but the need for power and control over a victim which is at the center of the domestic violence. Pretrial intervention means this man will not be convicted of a felony and if he should again beat his now wife or a subsequent partner there will be no record of a prior offense.

I was heart-broken when several months after this event the victim of the crime was revictimized by the media. As one of the worst moments of her life was replayed for the world to see, people around the globe were asking “why didn’t she leave?”, “why did she still marry him?” Blaming the victim for allowing herself to be in an abusive situation. I felt helpless to do anything and needed some way to respond. Then writer and domestic abuse survivor Beverly Gooden changed the tone of the conversation. The #WhyIStayed went global and gave victims everywhere an opportunity to share their stories of abuse. It followed with the #WhyILeft and suddenly not only were there victims, but there were survivors speaking up. In the weeks that followed, call volume at the National Domestic Violence Hotline were up 85%. That’s when I had the idea for this vigil. Why not take a crime that so often remains unreported, so often happens behind closed doors, and bring it out into the public forum. Let’s not only give victims a voice, but give them a podium.

I want to thank you all for coming out tonight. Thank you to Rev. Charles Blustein Ortman and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair for giving us a place to gather. Thank you to the supporters for being there to hold hands and wipe tears. Thank you to victims for having the strength to keep going when often it feels there is no choice but to give up. And thank you to the survivors who have found the strength to get out and to help us spread awareness of this issue. It’s not a women’s issue, not a men’s issue, but an everybody issue!

I mentioned state legislation before and am proud to know that on the national stage, it is New Jersey’s own Senator Cory Booker who is leading the charge against domestic violence. Though Senator Booker was unable to be here tonight I am honored to welcome Nancy Erika Smith from the Senator’s office.”


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