YWCA candlelight vigil honors domestic abuse victims

It was a somber affair on Oct. 25 as the community gathered for the YWCA of Greenwich’s Domestic Abuse Services’ Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the memory of those who have died at the hands of domestic violence over the last year.

The event is held each October in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Adrianne Singer, the Greenwich YWCA’s president and CEO, reminded vigil attendees that October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Ms. Singer brought that to people’s attention, she explained, because many people are shocked to hear that one in eight women will battle breast cancer, while they may not realize that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

YWCA staff and volunteers, as well as members of the community, gather at the annual vigil “to mourn those who have died as a result of abuse, celebrate the strength of the survivors and connect with others who support the cause to end domestic violence around the world,” Ms. Singer said.

 

The organization’s Domestic Abuse Services program serves as the sole provider of domestic violence services in Greenwich. “We wish that we weren’t as busy as we are, but unfortunately we are busier than ever,” Ms. Singer said.

Suzanne Adam, director of the program, addressed how to approach a loved one who is or may be being abused.

“Whether you know it or not, some of the people in your life may be experiencing abuse and or violence in their lives,” she said. Citing behaviors commonly demonstrated by abusers, such as intimidation, isolation, verbal attacks, and financial control, Ms. Adam said supporting a friend or family member who has been a victim of domestic abuse takes time and patience.

“Your friend, relative or co-worker may believe the abuser’s negative messages. They may feel ashamed, inadequate and afraid they will be judged by you,” she explained. In addressing domestic abuse with the individual, one must “gently” ask questions. And above all, Ms. Adam said, remind the victim that being abused is not his or her fault.

“Explain that there’s never an excuse for violence in a relationship. Not drugs, not alcohol, not job pressures … anything,” she said.

While Ms. Adam read aloud the names of each individual who died in Connecticut as a result of domestic violence over the last year, YWCA staff and volunteers stood in their honor, each wearing a white T-shirt bearing the name of one of the victims on the front and his or her cause of death on the back.

Ms. Adam also took a moment to specifically honor the members of the Greenwich community who lost their lives to domestic violence over the last year: Amanda Dobrzanski, Layla Banks, Alison McKnight and Sarah Coit.

“They will be dearly missed,” she said.

Ms. Adam went on to discuss the insufficiency of empathy as opposed to doing the “nasty work of making moral judgments.” Those who perform pro-social action, she said, feel compelled by a sense of duty to act rather than simply empathize.

“If you want to make the world a better place, help people debate, understand reform, revere and act on your beliefs. Let’s eliminate domestic violence in the town of Greenwich,” she said.

After the vigil, attendees were invited to view the Domestic Abuse Services’ Clothesline Project.

According to Lillian Ankrah, an art therapist and leader of the local project, it was established in Maine in 1990, modeled around the concept that domestic violence is a private issue that people do not discuss and that victims should “air their dirty laundry” and express their emotions.

The shirts are each color-coded, Ms. Ankrah said. White represents murder as a result of domestic violence, orange represents physical abuse, red represents sexual abuse, blue represents verbal abuse, and black can represent any kind of abuse but was designated the financial abuse color, as it is a major problem within the community, she explained.

The project was completed in various meetings, with YWCA staff and volunteers attending public sessions and domestic abuse clients attending private sessions in order to create a safe environment for them, Ms. Ankrah said.

One inspiring client had been deeply silenced by domestic violence because her abuser told her that no one would ever believe she was being violated, Ms. Ankrah said, and one of her completed shirts read, “You’re wrong, somebody did believe me.”

“I think that was so powerful for her to put herself out there,” she commented.

Given the success of the Clothesline Project, Ms. Ankrah said, she hopes to do it on a larger scale in the future, possibly creating the T-shirts year-round then culminating in a larger ceremony each October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The project is a creative outlet that is liberating for everyone involved, she said.

For more information on the YWCA Domestic Abuse Services program, visit ywcagreenwich.org.

 

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