Silent Witness Project speaks loudly for domestic abuse victims
In the week during which two pieces of state legislation supporting domestic abuse victims cleared committees in the Senate and Assembly, victims who didn't survive their ordeals are remembered in Mount Holly.
The annual Silent Witness Project, held October 7 during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, brings the subject into a glaring spotlight with life-sized silhouettes, each representing a Burlington County inhabitant who died as a result of domestic abuse.
It was co-sponsored by the Burlington County Prosecutor's and Sheriff's offices, Soroptimist of Burlington County and Servicios Latinos de Burlington County and Rowan College at Burlington County, which hosted it.
State lawmakers advanced Lisa's Law, which would place domestic abuse offenders, at a judge's order, under electronic monitoring, under a four-year pilot program that would originate in Ocean County.
Also achieving progress is a measure sponsored by Monmouth Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), which would place restrictions for firearms ownership on certain offenders.
Originating in Minnesota a quarter-century ago as an artists' project to dramatize lives lost, the Silent Witness Project now honors victims and reinstills commitment to protect survivors all over America.
According to County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi, New Jersey recorded 62,055 domestic violence offenses in 2014, a four-percent decrease from the previous year. The cases included 42 deaths, two fewer than 2013.
Burlington County's domestic violence reports in 2014 totaled 3,450, a decline of 161 from the previous year.
Delivering the keynote address, Bernardi said, "I want to emphasize that there are programs in place to protect you and your family members," Prosecutor Bernardi said. "Let me say that again - there are programs in place to protect you and your family members, but only if you come forward and let us help you."
County Sheriff Jean Stanfield, who emceed the gathering, observed that beyond calling renewed attention to the problem, "it lets those who are caught up in the cycle of domestic violence know that they have a network of resources available to them and that they are not in this fight alone."
RCBC President Paul Drayton expressed the school's a deep and abiding commitment to support victims of domestic abuse.
"We have a number of resources available for the college community and encourage victims or witnesses of abusive relationships to reach out to us," Drayton said
Providence House offers comprehensive services for domestic violence victims and their children, free of charge. Associate Director Mary Pettrow said that the service "recommits us to working to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future."
"We know that this issue affects all communities regardless of color, race, age or culture," said Angela Gonzalez, the executive director of Servicios Latinos of Burlington County.
"During this month of Hispanic Heritage and Victim Awareness Month, we would like to highlight the problem, and ask victims to break the cycle, by coming out of the situation and looking for support before is too late."
If you are suffering abuse, or someone you know is undergoing it, visit Providence House online or reach its domestic violence hotline, 1-877-871-7551.