By Jennifer L. Warren
GOSHEN – “You have to act as if it was radically possible to change the world, and you have to do it every day.”
This Angela Davis quote was stressed by Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier, Executive Director of Safe Homes of Orange County, as she led an “opening ceremony” for Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) outside of the Orange County Government Center last Monday afternoon. Clad in purple (DVAM’s symbolic color), Kostyal-Larrier stood at a podium, behind her t-shirts adorned with names of area women whose lives were lost since 2003 to domestic violence, with mixed emotions on this critical, heartfelt topic, as she welcomed the crowd.
“It is important we don’t ever forget the names, and that we continue to do the work in honor of their memory,” urged Kostyal-Larrier. “Safe Homes cannot do this work alone; we are very lucky to have such a great support system here.”
Many representing that potent support surrounded Kostyal-Larrier as she spoke. Also nearby to her was another tribute to the victims of domestic abuse. Aligning the entire front walk of the County Building were riveting pieces of “The Clothesline Project,” t-shirts crafted by survivors of domestic abuse or in honor of someone who has been a victim of it. Intended to promote awareness about this serious and prevalent issue, it is further aimed at assisting the critical healing process for those who have lost a loved one to violence. Some shirts had quotes, others photos and still others messages to the perpetrators. Regardless of what covered the shirt, the topics of pain, intolerance for these heinous crimes and hope for answers resonated, as several people could be spotted viewing them, visibly touched by their content.
Affecting so many from all walks of life, domestic violence’s effects have profound, rippling effects. It’s one of the many reasons organizations like Safe Homes that protect victims on multiple levels is such a pivotal piece to troubleshooting and reducing the incidence as well as roller coaster of emotions connected to domestic violence.
“Safe Homes is not just a place that protects people; you literally save lives,” said James Skoufis, New York State State Assemblyman 99th District and long-time friend-supporter of Safe Homes. “There is a misconception that this is only happening in certain areas-black or white, rich or poor, not true.” He added, “We have to do a lot more, and this includes legislation; thank you for all the work you do, not just today but every day,” Skoufis concluded, as he turned to the front group of speakers in attendance, all who diligently work to help reduce the level of domestic violence in our area.
One of those people, another politician, Steven M. Neuhaus, County Executive, who also spoke, alluded to the common pattern of someone in all of the domestic abuse cases he has seen in his five years of tenure involving someone knowing something ahead of time that could have saved a life. He stressed the imperative need to “get the word out,” not remaining silent.
Despite the somber tangible reality of the many lives lost that enveloped the County Building during the event, Darcy Miller, Director of Social Services, reminded the crowd there were many positives to pull out from how this area has dealt with domestic violence. Hope remains.
“We’ve come a long way in how we address domestic violence; many of the things being said here today would not have been said years ago,” pointed out Miller. “The most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves; we make tough decision here, sometimes having to remove children from parents.” Continuing, Miller said, “We need to figure out how do we hold a batterer accountable and other things; however, we really appreciate we get to have a chance to come out here every October to talk about these issues.”
It’s platforms like last Monday’s outside of the Government Center which will hopefully spurn more awareness and even action. For many on hand, there is just too much at stake-human lives- to not pay attention, this month and every month.
“I want people to remember on a day like today that domestic awareness should be every day, and being an ally means taking action every single day, 365 days of the year,” said Inaudy Esposito, Executive Director of the Human Right Commission. “It also means believing the survivors and victims while supporting them in any way they might need at the moment.”