YWCA recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month with vigil

Candles were lit by attendees of the annual YWCA vigil, marking the memory of those killed by domestic violence. The ceremony brings attention to the 24/7 services offered by the YWCA. –John Ferris Robben

Candles were lit by attendees of the annual YWCA vigil, marking the memory of those killed by domestic violence. The ceremony brings attention to the 24/7 services offered by the YWCA. –John Ferris Robben

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in an effort to raise awareness and breed solidarity, the YWCA of Greenwich’s Domestic Abuse Services held its annual Vigil and Purple Ribbon Award Ceremony last Thursday.

The event coincides with the National YWCA Week Without Violence, which protests all forms of violence across the country. The YWCA is currently the town’s only venue for domestic abuse services, and continues to aid more and more women, children and families each year.

“Last year, we treated just over 6,500 individuals, including 725 children, and we sheltered 101, 63 of whom were children. That is the highest number we have sheltered in any year,” YWCA President Adrianne Singer said.

Led by Director Suzanne Adam, YWCA Domestic Abuse Services provides counseling, support, shelter, and advocacy for those seeking help with their home situation. Throughout the evening, speakers reminded the crowd that domestic violence is not exclusively physical; financial, psychological and emotional abuse can prove just as harmful. Those who find themselves at risk with respect to any of these factors are encouraged to reach out for help.

“It is a pattern of behavior,” Ms. Adam said, offering her definition of domestic violence. “It’s when one person attempts to control a current or former intimate partner through threats or actual use of physical, verbal, sexual, financial, or psychological violence.”

She asked the crowd to remain aware of the warning signs of abuse, which can include emotional instability, a decrease in communication, self-deprecating behavior and anxiety around a partner, as well as typical signs of physical violence. Furthermore, Ms. Adam urged those seeking to intervene in a potentially abusive relationship to exercise caution and patience. Victim-blaming in cases of abuse can happen both internally and externally, and perpetuate the cycle of violence. Blaming the victim for his or her role in the relationship should never excuse violent behavior.

The evening’s keynote speaker was a recent and recovering survivor of domestic violence, Andrea, whose full name was withheld for safety reasons. Even as a polished professional, Andrea said, she found herself in a violent marriage, lying to maintain appearances to those outside her relationship. After confronting her abuser, she found herself suffering from PTSD, a condition she says cannot be overcome alone.

“In order to heal, an abused woman needs a strong professional unit with a winning record,” Andrea said. “She needs a dedicated coach and a rigorous game plan, she needs a team that fully understands the dynamic of domestic abuse and doesn’t ever blame the victim. For me, the winning team is the YWCA.”

Each year, the YWCA honors an individual for contribution to victims of domestic violence with the Purple Ribbon Award. This year’s recipient was Joseph Masiello. Mr. Masiello is a certified financial planner who has educated and consulted with dozens of women as they prepare for the financial and legal aspects of divorce. Dedicating his time pro bono, Mr. Masiello works with the YWCA’s divorce support group and also offers individual coaching for victims in need.

By meeting with victims and their lawyers, Mr. Masiello ensures that they are adequately prepared for the difficult and often hostile process of divorce proceedings.

“Joe not only acts as a financial adviser but also a support for clients as he offers guidance and helps provide clarity, encouraging clients to bravely face their new financial reality,” divorce support group counselor Valerie Wallace said. “Joe accomplishes all of this while engaging with clients with the utmost respect, allowing them to maintain their dignity while needing help.”

According to statistics shared at the vigil, 25% of women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, and domestic violence is the second most investigated crime in Greenwich. A total of 28 lives were lost in Connecticut as a result of domestic violence in the past year. Bilingual counselor Yajaira Gonzalez read their names aloud as members of the crowd presented white roses in their memory and a moment of silence was observed.

The vigil wasn’t the YWCA’s only event in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A screening of Tough Guise 2, a film addressing rise of hyper-masculinity in pop culture, was held on Oct. 21 in a joint effort with the Junior League. In a similar vein, a community art project, “Stepping into the Man Cave: Rethinking Masculinity” was placed on display in the YWCA gallery. Incidents involving NFL players recently thrust domestic violence into the forefront of social criticism, and showed the need for culpability and recognition on the part of men nationwide.

“It is time to reframe the conversation about domestic violence from one that’s centered on individual pathology to a larger discussion about our culture, about socially acceptable behavior and how we teach our children about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a man,” prevention and education coordinator Meredith Gold said as she closed the ceremony.

In addition to raising awareness, remembering those who were lost and celebrating those who have survived, events and testimonies like the YWCA vigil can provide the necessary catalyst for those currently living in abusive relationships.

“If you are unsure, help is available. You don’t have to identify as a victim of domestic violence,” Ms. Adams said. “You can have questions, you can wonder, it can be emotional abuse, physical abuse, it can be everything in between. Help is available — call our hotline when you’re ready.”

The YWCA also sponsored a Wednesday press conference marking the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act featuring U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th). There will be full coverage of that in the Oct. 30 edition of the Post.

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