TOMS RIVER – Memories of those who died as the victim of domestic violence – and greater awareness to the resources available to those facing that trauma – were part of the Silent Witness Project ceremony held recently at the Ocean County Mall.
The Silent Witness Project ceremony involved the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County College, Providence House Domestic Violence Services of Catholic Charities, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office and the Soroptimist International of Toms River.
Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines and Freeholder Gary Quinn presented a proclamation to Providence House during the ceremony and during her remarks, Haines shared her own story.
“I was a victim when I was 25 years old. I told no one. I didn’t let anyone know until after it was happening but I did leave. I was not hospitalized and thank God I was not killed but it can happen to anyone,” she said.
“No matter who you are, where are you live or your background, you can be a victim. When that happens you can call someone, be it a neighbor or a support agency or someone else but you can always find a way out,” Haines said.
The event was held to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence and connect residents with local resources to help end the violence in their lives.
Both Haines and Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer reviewed the history of the Silent Witness Project which began in 1990 when an ad hoc group of women artists and writers, upset about the growing number of women in Minnesota being murdered by their partners or acquaintances, joined together with several other women’s organizations to form Arts Action Against Domestic Violence.
“While you are here take the time to look at the silent witnesses in the circle here,” Billhimer said referring to the life sized red and blue wooden figures which featured information on a specific fatal incident of domestic violence that included the name of the victim, their town, date and a brief synopsis of that murder.
Billhimer noted that the women who founded the movement felt an urgency to do something that would speak out against the escalating domestic violence in their state and set out to create something that would commemorate the lives of the 26 women whose lives had been taken in 1990 as a result of domestic violence.
“It now exists in every state and 23 other countries. The goal of those women in Minnesota was to promote education, raise awareness, reduce the stigma and connect people with resources. There are a number of resources available. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity. It effects all of us,” Billhimer said.
“There is no reason for you to suffer in silence. There are people here that can help you,” he said. “I always thought it was important to talk to students and young people who are at a vulnerable age so that they can see the signs. The hardest thing for a victim of domestic violence is to understand the cycle and to realize that they may be in it. It is so easy for us to say ‘why doesn’t someone just leave.’ That is the hardest thing to do if you don’t realize you are in it.”
Laurie Toole, program supervisor for Providence House Domestic Violence Services of Catholic Charities served as master of ceremonies. She said the day’s event was dedicated in memory of Ron Gering, who recently died of cancer, for his 45 years of service to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton.
“Ron was a gentle man who cared deeply about the people we serve, leading an agency work group that brought a trauma informed approach to our work. Ron ensured that those who were voiceless would be given a voice through the work of Catholic Charities. We know Ron would be proud by the work being done to shine light on the issue of domestic violence,” Toole said.
“Having a voice is especially important for victims of domestic violence. For a victim of domestic violence, choosing to speak out and be heard can often be very dangerous and unsafe. More often than not it takes an immense amount of courage,” she said. “We work continuously at Providence House to provide a safe place for victims to choose courage and we are so fortunate that so many of you in the community do the same.”
The ceremony included performances by the Ocean County Vocational Technical School Performing Arts Academy while the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard opened the program with presentation of colors. Pastor Tom Carrano of New Beginnings Christian Church provided the invocation.
For information about Providence House and its domestic violence support services call 732-350-2120.