By Richard Kaufman
On Monday morning outside the entrance to Town Hall, local elected officials, members of the YWCA of Greenwich, first responders and residents gathered to kick-off the start of Domestic Violence Awareness & Prevention Month with the reading of a proclamation from First Selectman, Peter Tesei.
According to YWCA of Greenwich President, Mary Lee Kiernan, domestic violence is the most reported crime in the community. Last year, the YWCA responded to over 4,100 calls to their hotline from victims and their families.
“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate; it affects people of all races, genders, religions and income levels, even in Greenwich,” Kiernan said in her opening remarks, noting that the YWCA is the only state-designated and accredited provider of domestic abuse services in the community which helps train professionals in many fields, including law enforcement, in how to recognize signs of domestic violence.
“One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and it’s very likely you know someone who has experienced abuse,” she added. “That’s why we’re here. To raise awareness about domestic violence.”
According to Greenwich Police Chief James Heavey, although there have been 214 domestic violence incidences in Greenwich in 2017 compared to 307 in 2016, there are still way too many. He also mentioned that in the state of Connecticut, 12 to 14 homicides every year are related to domestic violence.
“Domestic violence in the grand scheme of the nation is considered often by many to be a medical epidemic,” he said. “We’re trying to do our small part to support the YWCA, and we really appreciate their efforts at educating all of our officers and helping the community.”
Over the course of October, GPD officers, the fire department, and various shops and businesses around town will showcase purple ribbons in support of the YWCA to raise awareness.
Tesei then read the proclamation for the initiative to the crowd.
“The citizens of Greenwich must unite to directly confront this crisis. Law enforcement officials, those involved with shelters and hotline services, health care providers, the clergy and other concerned citizens are helping in the effort to end domestic violence,” he said in part. “We must recognize the compassion and dedication of these volunteers and professionals, applaud their efforts and increase public understanding of this important problem.”
Standing next to the podium outside of Town Hall was a giant purple purse, which Kiernan said is a metaphor for women’s power. During October, the Allstate Foundation sponsors the national Purple Purse Challenge, which is an online fundraising competition that aims to raise money for domestic violence services across the country.
“We are asking members of the community to help us raise funds and importantly provide hope and a way out for people experiencing domestic violence,” Kiernan said.
The purse will be traveling around Greenwich over the next three-and-a-half weeks. Residents are encouraged to take a selfie with the purse, post the photo on either Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat with the hashtags #ywcagreenwich, #breakthesilence, #purplepursegreenwich. They should then donate money at Ywcagreenwich.org/purplepurse.
The organization that raises the most money in the country will receive a $100,000 matching grant.
Meredith Gold, Director of Domestic Abuse Services for YWCA of Greenwich, spoke at the kick-off event as well.
Gold explained how domestic violence has traditionally been thought of as a family matter that should be kept private, and that abusers count on the veil of secrecy of their behavior. She noted that community members have obliged to the secrecy for too long.
“While this has allowed us to stay safely in our own comfort zones, it has also contributed to the stealthy and insidious nature of domestic violence,” she said. “This is why our awareness efforts are critical to our fight to end abuse. By taking a stand publicly, we are letting abusers know that their behavior is unacceptable and that we will not stand for it.”
Gold went on to describe the various domestic violence services the YWCA offers free to the public, from a 24 hour hotline to a one-on-one or group counseling. She also explained how the YWCA educates thousands of Greenwich students each year, even as young as first grade, to teach them about healthy and unhealthy relationships.
“We cannot do this work alone. We value our community partnerships and work collaboratively with so many of the service providers in town,” Gold said, specifically thanking the GPD for their work in the community and commitment to joining the fight.
Most importantly, Gold said the Domestic Violence Abuse Services are open every day of the year, every hour of the day, to everyone affected.
“We are here for you,” she said.
Several other events are scheduled throughout October which the public is invited to.
On Oct. 11, there will be a candlelight vigil at the YWCA to celebrate survivors and honor victims who have lost their lives to domestic violence. The Purple Ribbon Award will be given to Greenwich High School football coach, John Marinelli, for his efforts in raising awareness about teen dating violence and the role of athletes as leaders in the community.
The week of Oct. 16-20 is designated by the YWCA USA as the National Week Without Violence. The YWCA will host the Silent Witness Project and hold an art display which represents victims who lost their lives to domestic violence.
On Oct. 20, there will be an introductory training course at YWCA called, “Understanding Domestic Violence.”
The program is free and open to the public and will be an interactive exploration lead by YWCA staff about the myths and facts around domestic violence, how to recognize warning signs, and how to respond in a safe and productive way.
On Oct. 28, the YWCA will hold a children’s concert lead by renowned pianist Jenny Lin. All contributions to the concert will go to YWCA Domestic Abuse Services.
For more information, visit www.ywcagreenwich.org.