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Vigil honors domestic violence victims
NORWAY— The miserable weather was a small thing for the group assembled. Rain and high wind; they'd overcome much worse.
Standing in the awning outside the Norway Municipal Building, symbolic purple ribbons flapping harshly in the wind, organizers, advocates, and community members stood in vigil to honor those lost to domestic violence, all while dedicating themselves in the process to those they could still help.
The weather was a somber reminder of their past, but a past they were moving away from.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and across Western Maine, from Lewiston-Auburn to Rumford and Farmington, similar heads were bowed Monday night, alight candles held aloft in solidarity.
The vigil was hosted by Safe Voices, a nonprofit organization based out of Auburn Maine. They have served members of Oxford, Androscoggin, and Franklin counties for three and half decades.
Jane Morrison, Executive Director of Safe Voices, addressed the group by painting a grim picture to the 20 or so people gathered: In Maine, over half the homicides are related to domestic violence. Two out of three children are affected by domestic violence, including 27,000 Maine youths. One in ten directly saw a family member abuse another.
"They watched their father beat their mother, they watched their mother verbally assault their mother, they see fighting, screaming, and tears," Morrison said.
State-wide, Safe Voices said 74 percent of those who called their hot-line to report domestic violence reported being strangled. Of those, one-third reported the violence stopped because children were present.
Working with women subjected to violence and their children, Safe Voices is trying to change the "culture of violence." The goal is to help the mothers build parenting skills, while supporting children understanding the violence they'd witnessed.
Oxford County Sherrif's Deputy Lieutenant Thomas Harriman said victims are often conflicted on whether to report the abuse, fearing future revenge from their spouse. Many women, Harriman said, are incapacitated by this sense of terror.
"We pray those who have not yet left their abuser will soon overcome whatever barriers prevent them from leaving and that they will find the will and strength to survive until that happens," Harriman said.
Other resident's concurred, murmuring, "It's a vicious cycle."
Morrison said it takes on average seven incidents before an abused woman will finally leave their spouse.
At that point, Kelly Thurston of Norway spoke on her own experience. Thurston, a survivor of domestic violence, emotionally explained the difficulties of separating from an abusive relationship.
"I ended up with who I thought was the man of my dreams, and if seven times would have been enough for me to leave, Tom [Lt. Harriman] wouldn't have been at my door 15-20 times for the first seven years."
"When I got out of it, I thought, 'That's it.' But all it does is give you these new glasses that see so many other people still going through it that it just breaks your heart," she said, choking on her words as she began to cry.
"If I had known there was such a support system as Safe Voices I would have been so much further ahead than I am now," Thurston said.
Thurston said Safe Voices was tireless in their advocacy.
"I've never met more amazing people in my life who never get, never, get enough credit for what I do. When they're taking calls from that woman on the hot-line and giving her advice, even if it's the 17th time, they go to bed that night and sleep very good because they know they're doing the right thing," she said.
After she spoke, Morrison passed out candles amongst the group, who held them aloft during a moment of silence. The high winds prevented all but one candle from lighting: Kelly Thurston's candle.
Safe Voices will hold a series of events throughout October. More information on the events can be found on their website safevoices.org.