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September 29, 2023

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Silent Witness Project brings awareness to women’s stories

Amid an audience that filled the Lenhart Grand Ballroom near to capacity, the stories of 69 women were told one-by-one at the Silent Witness Project.

Those women, all from the Northwest Ohio area, were victims of domestic violence and had lost their lives as a result over the last ten years.

“Each woman has an individual reader whose demographics match her so that her story is represented authentically,” said Mary Krueger, director of the University’s Women’s Center, which founded the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Silent Witness Project in 2001.

Behind every reading stood a life-sized, wooden, red silhouette figure, reflecting the likeness of each respective victim, along with a shield that eternalized her story and name.

Together, they make up this year’s silent witnesses for the region, which are intended to both embody the real consequences of domestic violence and stand as a testament to the breaking of silence surrounding this issue.

“Because of the reader’s willingness to stand in those shoes, the silent witnesses are, even if only for tonight, silent no longer,” Krueger said.

Ulester Douglas, interim executive director of Men Stopping Violence, lead the event off as the keynote speaker. In his opening speech, he first took a moment to acknowledge what he described as a “wonderful” crowd and a community saying “this is important.”

Douglas also stressed responsibility. He said what may seem to some as obvious but vital to the discussion of domestic violence, men commit these acts against women because they can. They expect to get away with it, Douglas said, citing his finding that roughly one in 45 men convicted of these crimes is expected to be arrested.

Douglas pointed to an American society that too often blames the victim by asking questions like “why didn’t she leave” or “what did she do to provoke him?” He said the change needed is to hold offenders accountable and protect victims.

Also in attendance with booths were the Cocoon Shelter from Bowling Green and Open Arms from Findlay.

The Cocoon Shelter is the only shelter of its kind in Wood County, said Emily Prosser, community advocate and outreach specialist for Cocoon.

“We service anybody within Wood County as well as a few surrounding counties that don’t have resources,” Prosser said.

In addition to providing a safe shelter for victims, Cocoon also maintains its vision of being a “transforming voice” in the area that’s committed to ending domestic violence and empowering those affected by it, she said.

“We’ve been involved with the Silent Witness Project for 10 or 11 years now,” Jodie DeVore of Open Arms said.

Open Arms has been serving all of Hancock County since accepting its first residents in June of 1981 and has continued to expand its programs over the years.

“We provide six programs and services to victims of domestic violence as well as offenders and the families of both,” DeVore said.

While the shelters and programs are vital to their respective communities, the need for them is a symptom of the broader issue in the U.S.

Douglas went into detail about a number of factors that have a role in the problem, such as how masculinity is perceived in our culture, the shutoff from emotion and the values in a patriarchal society. He concluded that success will only come if the crime is no longer tolerated and everyone is willing to speak up.

“The truth is, it is really not that complicated in some ways,” Douglas said. “Male violence against women and girls can end today— if men decide to stop.”​

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