AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that domestic violence takes the lives of three women every single day in the U.S. One in every four American women will be abused in their lifetimes-from every walk of life and in every community.
And that's why Safe Futures, in partnership with Hadassah American Affairs of Eastern Connecticut, is presenting "The Power of Purple, An End to Domestic Violence," a free educational program for the public on Thursday, April 4, at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich.
The goal is to make purple-the color of domestic violence awareness-on par with the pink ribbon, the symbol of breast cancer awareness, in the consciousness of the general public, according to program organizers Emma Palzere-Rae, Safe Futures director of development and communications, and Sheila Horvitz, who founded The Rose Conrad Memorial Fund in 2005 after her client was murdered by her husband during their divorce case.
"I've been very involved in Hadassah as the American Affairs chair and we've raised a lot of money for breast cancer-as we should," Horvitz says. "But we have to put purple on the map the way pink is-not compete with breast cancer, but make people aware that this issue is all around them."
Horvitz points out that it took many years to get courts to start issuing restraining orders against abusers-and for hitting one's spouse to become a crime.
"That's the focus of this program," she says, "to keep awareness on everyone's (sight) line all the time."
"Everyone knows somebody, if it's not themselves personally, who's been abused," says Palzere-Rae. "It's around all of us whether we're aware of it or not. The first step at the conference is to increase awareness so we can begin to address the problem."
A matrimonial lawyer in Norwich for more than 30 years, Horvitz says she came across many instances of domestic abuse against women and children.
"It would hit me like a ton of bricks whenever I had a case," she says.
The Rose Conrad case was particularly horrific, Horowitz says. Conrad had endured more than 25 years of physical and psychological terror at the hand of her second husband. After shooting his wife, he turned the gun on himself, in the presence of three of her children and a grandchild.
"This issue is still in the shadows," Horvitz says, "even though three women like Rose die every day, mostly from gunshots?15 million children in this country are victims of the abuse or are witnesses, which can be just as (traumatizing) and yet, we often still sweep it under the rug, are ashamed of it. Victims are afraid it could get worse if they (speak out)."
Horvitz established the Rose Conrad Fund as an entity of Safe Futures (formerly the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut)-which provides assistance and shelter for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault throughout New London County-because "it's a wonderful group doing wonderful work, and is a wonderful vehicle to put on our programs and events for education and awareness."
Palzere-Rae says approximately 6,000 children and adults receive direct services annually in communities Safe Futures serves, and that statistic has remained consistent over the years.
"The trend we're seeing in the last couple of years-with the economic (downturn)-is greater severity of abuse," she says. "Economic stress doesn't cause someone to become abusive, but it might escalate someone who's already an abuser to more frequent and intense attacks on the victim. It's a surprise the victim lived in some of the cases coming through the courts."
Both Palzere-Rae and Horvitz recognize that issues of confidentiality and fear of retaliation are big factors in not only getting victims to speak out, but neighbors, friends, and relatives of someone who is being abused to come forward.
"We can't advocate and do it quietly, and that's an inherent challenge," says Palzere-Rae.
"People have to have a little bit of courage," Horvitz agrees. "It's scary and I appreciate that, but we have to start somewhere. If we can save one life-a child's or a woman's-it's a start."
"The law can only go so far," she stresses. "We need human power to solve this. We need to change our culture."
The evening will include a community dialogue, and both women feel it's very important to have a call to action-whether people make a pledge to be nonviolent, to become better educated about the issues, to volunteer, or give a donation.
The keynote speaker is UConn professor, author, and humorist Gina Barreca. Although it's a serious subject, Horvitz and Palzere-Rae agree they want to end on a hopeful note.
"Gina has a unique way of getting us all to laugh about things we do or think," says Palzere-Rae.
She says she hopes the program will be attended by a broad spectrum of people in the community-not only in human services, but "employers, educators, activists, victims and anybody who wants to learn more and is struggling with the violence we're seeing on the news and thinking, how do we make it different for our kids? For our grandkids?"