Candlelight vigil to raise awareness of domestic violence

Published 4:21 am Thursday, October 21, 2010

Since the beginning of the year, the Michigan State Police report 75 domestic violence homicides have occurred throughout the state.

And at Shelter Services for Child and Family Services of Southwestern Michigan, 110 women and 60 children have been given shelter since the beginning of the year.

“Our shelter is constantly full,” Kelly Nightingale, director of shelter services said. “It’s very rare that we have an empty bed.”

Marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Child and Family Services of Southwestern Michigan will hold the 19th annual Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil today at 6 p.m. at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph.

Nightingale said small communities are not immune to such violence. And the problem is one that knows no specific criteria.

“I think one of the biggest myths that I hear is that it only happens in lower socioeconomic levels and the reality is that it happens among all socioeconomic levels,” she said. “I think that another misconception is that domestic violence is always related to the physical elements and there are many, many survivors of domestic violence that don’t have visible bruises.”

Instead, those victims suffer from infliction of name-calling, financial and emotional abuse and even isolation.

“It takes a community to raise awareness, and that is what we are trying to do,” Nightingale said. “We want people to know that services are available to them and that domestic violence happens right here in our small town, not just New York City and Los Angeles, but right here in Berrien County. It affects women from all walks of life, regardless of ethnicity, economics or their social circles.”

Beginning on the south lawn of the courthouse, the public is encouraged to join in a walk. Participants will march from the courthouse to the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center.

The Safe Shelter hosts the event annually during October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We have a candlelight vigil to recognize the survivors of domestic violence and to honor those victims who have lost their lives because of domestic violence,” Nightingale said.

While she estimated just 10 percent of men who actually batter women, Nightingale said statistics show one woman is killed approximately every five days in the state.

“I think that there is even more of (the non physical domestic violence) than the actual physical” abuse, she said.

The program tonight will last about one hour and will feature community members who wish to share their experience. Karen Porter, quality assurance director for the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, will be the guest speaker and will present “Every Home A Safe Home,” this years’ theme of the national Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Nightingale said she was “really pleased” that two former victims of domestic violence had also come forward and would be speaking during the vigil.

The Safe Shelter, a program of Child and Family Services, is a United Way agency serving Berrien County. Nightingale said the agency provides a 24-hour hotline, court advocacy, shelter, referral information and support groups for survivors through counseling sessions.

“We provide shelter but we also provide outreach services,” she said, calling the organization a great place to start once victims are safe. She suggested anyone currently a victim of domestic violence contact local law enforcement to get out of a violent situation.

A support group through the organization is also available in Niles and Nightingale said more information on that group could be learned through shelter services.

“This is not something that is only impacting the women who stay in our shelter,” Nightingale said. “They are also bringing children with them and the children witness the violence. And I think people forget about the children sometimes.”

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