By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and is a time to mourn those who have lost their lives, celebrate those who have survived, and to connect and work together to end violence — one in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence; a woman is beaten every nine seconds with an estimated three to four million women battered each year; three women are murdered each day in the United States by a current or former partner.
To help raise awareness, the Fall River Diocesan Council of Catholic Women is offering a breakfast presentation on domestic violence on October 24 at 9 a.m. at Holy Name Parish Center in Fall River.
“The mission of the National Council of Catholic Women is to be the voice of Catholic women, and we wanted to take that one step further and be the voice for all women, especially for those who cannot, for whatever reason, speak for themselves,” said Mary Mitchell, a member of the DCCW and its most recent past president. “Many women who are victims of domestic violence are in a position where they can’t or are afraid to speak for themselves, so we felt this was an important issue to bring up at this time.”
Last year the DCCW hosted a breakfast that focused on human trafficking, and due to its success, the council felt compelled to offer an annual breakfast with an emphasis on major issues. Just by coincidence, the focus of this year’s National Council of Catholic Women convention was also on domestic violence, and the NCCW offered materials that the DCCW will be passing out at the breakfast.
Guest speakers will be District Attorney Thomas Quinn, who will talk from the perspective of prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence, show resources available for victims and essentially break down the court system’s due process for perpetrators; Lt. Andrew Crook of the Fall River Police Department will offer firsthand accounts of entering the homes of domestic violence and how law enforcement tries to help; and Paula Wilding from Stanley Street Treatment and Resources will share stories of women after they have left.
There will also be a former victim of domestic violence sharing their story, someone who was able to extricate themselves from the situation and how they’re helping others do the same.
“This will show all the different phases from all the different points of view,” said Mitchell. “We just feel the more information you can get out there, the more people you can affect; domestic violence is a very hidden situation in many cases, and you don’t know if the person sitting next to you is a victim of domestic violence or not. By getting this out, you never know if that one person may have the courage to come and see what’s available and have the courage to move on. We’re just putting as much out there, getting as many people involved as we can, in the hope it will get to the right people.”
Pamela MacLeod-Lima, executive director of the Women’s Center in New Bedford, has been at the center since 2002 and knows that some signs of domestic violence are apparent while others can be subtle.
“Some of the signs of domestic violence are obvious like physical signs, like bruising, or are they becoming unexpectedly accident-prone?” said MacLeod-Lima, adding that victims will explain their injuries with excuses like, “‘I fell down the stairs or I ran into a door, and that’s how I got a black eye or shoulder.’ You look for physical signs. There are all kinds of abuse — financial control, psychological control — someone might be controlling who is allowed to be around.”
If someone observes these things, said MacLeod-Lima, bring your own awareness to the situation and have a conversation with that individual, check in with them often and let them know that you know what may be going on and that you’re there when they’re ready.
There is a 24-hour hotline number: 508-999-6636 found on the Women’s Center website (www.thewomenscentersc.com); the center offers a plethora of resources for men and women who are being abused, and even their family members who are looking for a way to help.
“We have processes that we know will help someone make the decision and help empower them to make themselves, and perhaps their children, safe,” said MacLeod-Lima. “We’ll help them with safety planning; if they decide they need an order of protection from the courts, we have safe plan advocates that will stay by their side and help them through the process with the paperwork and in court. If they need shelter, we can help them get to a safe place. We work primarily to keep them safe because it can be a very dangerous time when they choose to leave an abuser.
“People come to us pretty much shattered. Their self-esteem is shattered, their lives have just been torn apart — especially someone going into a shelter; they just lost their home, many of their possessions because they have to leave a lot behind. They have spent so much time in a relationship with someone who has told them they’re worthless, and they can’t do anything so they begin to internalize these feelings. We really help them find their way to reestablishing themselves and their self-esteem.”
The goal is to help them feel empowered, get an education or job, if needed, and back on their feet not just financially but also emotionally, especially if there are children involved. One in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence situations each year; boys who witness domestic violence are two times as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
“The children are the ones we help most, particularly in shelter,” said MacLeod-Lima. “For many women, this has been an ongoing situation with not just one abuser but with several because of their lack of self-esteem. People who are abusers can identify people who are vulnerable. For the children then, when they come into a shelter, this is the first time some sense of control in their lives, some sense of order. They get up at a certain time, have meals at a certain time, go to school consistently; they go from a very unpredictable, tension-filled household to, in shelter, they take a deep breath for the first time and focus on themselves as children.
“It opens the door that they previously didn’t know was available to them, of living in the world among other people in a way that makes sense, and that it’s safe and healthy.”
On October 27, the Women’s Center will be holding a candlelight vigil starting at 6 p.m. at New Bedford City Hall and walking in silence to the First Unitarian Church where an ecumenical service will be held at 6:30 p.m.
The idea behind walking in silence is “to honor the victims who live in silence,” said MacLeod-Lime. “It’s not a great distance but it’s a big step.”
For those interested in attending the breakfast presentation by the DCCW, the cost is $25 and will be held on October 24 at Holy Name Parish Center, 850 Pearce Street in Fall River. For reservations and additional information, please contact Mary Mitchell at 508-993-3742 or Lynette Ouellette at 508-674-7036.