Event seeks to allow deceased victims of domestic violence to be heard

John Stinchcomb and John Stinchcomb

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

Those women, all from the Northwest Ohio area, were victims of domestic violence and lost their lives as a result over the past 10 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 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 testaments 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, led the event as the keynote speaker. In his opening speech, he first took a moment to acknowledge what he described as a “wonderful” crowd and community saying, “this is important.”

Douglas stressed responsibility. He said what might 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 arrested.

Douglas pointed to an American society that too often blames victims by asking questions such as, “Why didn’t she leave?” or “What did she do to provoke him?” He said society must start holding 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 maintains its vision of being a “transforming voice” in the area, which is committed to ending domestic violence and empowering those affected by it, Prosser said.

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

Open Arms has served all of Hancock County since accepting its first residents in June of 1981 and has continued to expand its programs ever since.

“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 described a number of factors that have contributed to 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,” Douglas said, “It is really not that complicated in some ways, Male violence against women and girls can end today— if men decide to stop.”