Oct. 1 marked the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This observance was started in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) as a single day called the Day of Unity as a means to connect domestic violence advocates.
What once was a single day observance, has become a month observance to remember and honor those lost and to celebrate survivors, while still providing the opportunity for advocates to connect.
The Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence (WCCADV) held its annual opening vigil from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 1 at the Whatcom County Courthouse and had approximately 100 attendees. Inside the rotunda booths information was provided about local domestic violence resources.
There were six, life-sized, wooden silhouettes around the perimeter of the rotunda. These silhouettes, which are called Silent Witnesses, each represent a member of the community who has lost their life due as a result of to domestic violence.
Inside the Council Chambers hung t-shirts decorated by survivors as part of The Clothesline Project, a nationwide project attempting to bring awareness of domestic violence into our communities.
"One in three women will be the victims of domestic violence in her lifetime," Dr. Marie Fortune, the keynote speaker, said. She called out to faith based communities urging them to become more involved in the movement to end domestic violence.
WCCADV is also sponsoring the Labyrinth Walk for Healing at 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 15, at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
Women's Empowerment and Violence Education (WEAVE), a Prevention and Wellness Services student group headed by Devlin O'Donnell, will be tabling on campus this month to provide information on domestic violence. They will also be handing out purple domestic violence awareness ribbons, O'Donnell said, as well as holding signs of support and awareness in Red Square.
O'Donnell said the purpose of WEAVE is to educate the campus and larger community about issues of violence, and to spread awareness and support to anyone who has been affected by violence. Also WEAVE strives to create a space to celebrate women and the strength women have and to improve communication between all genders.
"This month is a chance to honor those who work on these issues and to honor and celebrate survivors,” O'Donnell said. “This month is not strictly a sad event, but more of a positive remembrance of the strength of survivors and recognition of the members of the community who go out of their way to help end domestic violence."
O'Donnell explained that WEAVE is a student group that is working on these issues all year, not only during October, and is interested in engaging in dialogue with people about these issues.
She is also the head of Crime and Sexual Assault Services (CASAS), a resource on campus for any students affected by sexual assault or dating violence.
"When people think of domestic violence they think lower income, older, married, and straight, but it can happen right here on campus to any demographic and in any type of relationship," O'Donnell said. "All of it is equally unacceptable.”
There will also be Women Supporting Women, a confidential and safe space where women can talk about how violence has affected their lives, O'Donnell explained. The group will be starting soon and O'Donnell said that any students that are interested should contact her before Oct. 19. Also, she said that if men are interested in a similar group, they should contact her and she can start a Men Supporting Men group.
Joshua O'Donnell, brother of Devlin O'Donnell, and coordinator of Western Men Against Violence (WMAV) said his group will also be involved in raising awareness this month by holding signs in Red Square and providing info tables on campus.
"[WMAV is a] group of guys working to build a safer community on campus, safer meaning re-educating people on the reasons behind rape and sexual assault and violence, and also by providing an alternative, healthy image of masculinity,” O'Donnell said. Also he said that one of the most important things that WMAV has to do is to make sure people know they exist.
"If men don't see a visual representation of a healthy masculinity then there won't be any change, O'Donnell said."
He explained that a good way for men to get involved in these issues would be to come to WMAV club meetings, at 4 p.m. Wednesdays in VU 460.
"Many men believe in this issue and don't believe that they will commit acts of violence and leave it at that,” O'Donnell said. “I think the next step for men is to speak out."
In addition to regular meetings, WMAV will be hosting a Men's Retreat at 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 27 at in VU 567. There will be guest speakers, workshops, free food, and a closing panel for questions and answers.
The Women's Center (WC), an office of the Associated Students Resource and Outreach Programs, will also be putting on events in honor of this month. WC co-coordinators Jenny Henley and Jessica Sele said they plan on bringing The Clothesline Project to campus, which will feature shirts made by students and women from the local Womencare Shelter. They will also host a domestic violence speak-out on Oct. 30. This will be a chance for students to read their own poetry or spoken-word, Sele said.
"I think it's important to carve out space to bare witness to domestic violence but that it shouldn't be just contained with in the parameters of a month," Henley said. "This is a normalized epidemic."
The co-coordinators plan on having events focused on violence throughout the year and want to have a panel with the LGBTA on same sex relationships and abuse.
They said they are also looking into bringing a Seattle group to campus called Communities Against Rape and Abuse. This group educates on more pro-active ways to stop violence before it starts. They said they are planning an event with the Legal Information Center about the legal system, how it has historically affected domestic violence and how that is changing.
For those students interested in getting involved with a community organization dedicated to stopping domestic violence and aiding those it affects you can contact Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) at (360) 671-5714 or Womencare Domestic Violence Shelter at (360) 671-8539. For those students dealing with sexual assault or dating violence, CASAS can be reached at (360) 650-3700 and is completely confidential. Devlin O'Donnell's number is (360) 650-7982, and she encourages students to contact her if they are interested in Women Supporting Women. To attend the Men's Retreat contact Joshua O'Donnell at (360) 213-3290.