“With Awareness There Is Hope” is the mantra for Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates. Sharing solid information, going into the community with workshops for children, teens, and adults, and holding workshops and sessions for victims and survivors are all a part of that philosophy. The first day of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month was an opportunity to raise awareness and share information with those interested in supporting victims and survivors.
The forum started with a welcome from S.O.F.I.A. Executive Director and Founder, Cynthia Walker, and then Annette Johnson took over as moderator of the event. Ms. Johnson, , is the Vice President for the S.O.F.I.A. Board of Directors.
The first speaker, Blair Goode, focused on advocating from a male perspective. He mentioned personal loss due to domestic violence, and the everyday effects on children, families, and the community. Mr. Goode emphasized the need for more males to get involved in anti-domestic violence work. He highlighted the Well Meaning Man model as an example of effective change.
The second speaker, Minister Wanda Edwards, highlighted recognizing and identifying the underlying causes of domestic violence. She emphasized the need for advocates to commit to follow-through with a victim. Ms. Edwards also touched on the need for advocates to know their limits. If follow-through may be an issue, refer a victim to appropriate assistance. This helps to avoid re-victimizing the person you are trying to assist. Ms. Edwards is currently finishing a documentary on domestic violence.
Deverett Ross, Executive Director of Community Against Violence, spoke about how to navigate the loss of loved ones due to domestic violence and violence in general. Mr. Ross shared personal details and how he overcame the devastation of sudden, violence loss. He shared several coping methods, but he repeatedly emphasized the importance for victims to have a private or spiritual conversation as well as a public, social conversation where they can share pain without judgment. Mr. Ross’ message was that healing is possible with acceptance and work.
Pamela McCauley, Victim Witness Coordinator with the Essex County Prosecutor’s office shared resources, statistics, and reasons for why victims stay in abusive relationships. Ms. McCauley also discussed the need for advocates and supporters to know their safety and emotional limits. She also urged advocates to empathize and not judge. “We can ill-afford to stand in judgment of victims…when a person finally gets the courage to leave, we must be allies.”
To give the attendees a feel for the magnitude of the issue, Ms. McCauley shared that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office served almost eleven thousand victims of criminal domestic violence. She then reminded the room that not all cases of domestic violence can be categorized as “criminal.” Emotional and financial abuse, for example, are rarely considered criminal, but must still be addressed. Resources like the Family Justice Center and groups like S.O.F.I.A. are buffers to help victims get help and support.
Marlo Taybron, the Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) coordinator for the South Orange/Maplewood Police Department talked about the effect of domestic violence on children. Ms. Taybron discussed the importance of interrupting the cycle of abuse for children with active acceptance and positive examples. She mentioned connecting on a personal level and modeling healthy, caring relationships.
To close out the forum, Gerri Powell, the DVRT coordinator for Montclair, discussed how victims can move forward to survivors. Many victims, Ms. Powell said, are reluctant to categorize what is happening to them as abuse. They often downplay their abuse by comparing it to others who are in “worse” situations. “You can’t factor abuse into your everyday life,” she said. Downplaying one’s own experience doesn’t help a victim or those around her/him.
The attendees were able to ask questions of panelists, and there were pamphlets and resources available for the taking. Annette Johnson reminded the room that S.O.F.I.A. is hosting a Candlelight Vigil for Domestic Violence Awareness Month at 7 PM on October 24th, 2016 in Crane Park, Montclair.
Cynthia Walker concluded the event with thanks and a reminder that S.O.F.I.A. is taking part in the Allstate Purple Purse Challenge which will help fund the services, programs, and outreach workshops offered to the community and to victims and survivors.
For more information, visit www.supportsofia.org or the Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates’ Facebook Page.