Members of the Somerville community gathered for the annual Domestic Violence Vigil outside the Somerville Public Safety Building in Union Square last Wednesday evening.
The vigil, held to remember those who lost their lives to domestic violence, included a candlelit parade through the streets of Union Square and concluded with a spoken agenda at the Public Safety Building. The event was organized by Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and the Somerville Commission for Women, and was directed by Director of Somerville Commissions Sonja Darai.
Speakers at the vigil included members of the Somerville community, such as Somerville Chief of Police David Fallon, Director of Somerville’s Health and Human Services Douglas Kress and State Representative in Medford and Somerville Christine Barber, all of whom spoke about their roles in addressing the issue of domestic violence.
Barber said she supported budgetary amendments that included provisions for increased domestic violence and sexual assault services.
“I’m in this fight with you,” she said.
Many of the speeches at the vigil focused the agenda launch of PeaceKeepers, a youth group that was organized by Darai to address the issue of dating violence to an adolescent audience.
Darai explained she began reaching out to local teens a year ago to teach them about domestic violence. She said her message seemed to resonate with three students in particular, all of whom came to the weekly meetings consistently.
“Sonja [Darai] made learning about it fun,” one of the members of PeaceKeepers said.
The PeaceKeepers worked closely with Darai to develop different techniques to raise awareness about domestic violence, and especially dating violence. They hope to employ a diverse selection of social media outlets to reach a broad base.
Organizers at the vigil spoke about the high number of adolescents who are victims of dating abuse, and PeaceKeepers volunteers explained that one in four seventh-grade girls are subject to dating abuse nationally, as well as one in three seventh-grade boys. A 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health found roughly similar statistics to the ones described by PeaceKeepers members among “urban, minority, middle school youth” — 16.8 percent of girls reported dating abuse, as well as 26.4 percent of boys — and a 2012 study done by RTI International found over a third of seventh-grade respondents reporting experiences with “psychological dating violence” and nearly a sixth encountering “physical dating violence.”
“In order to end domestic violence, we need to educate,” Tiffany Melendez, director of programs and services for Somerville’s domestic violence advocacy and support service RESPOND, said.
Melendez said that domestic abuse affects a broad range of people throughout Somerville, not just adolescents. They said the 16 domestic violence-related fatalities in Somerville in the past year claimed victims whose ages ranged from 17 to 58, and included both men and women.
“Everyone is touched by domestic violence,” Melendez said. “So if you are not experiencing it, maybe your friend or your friend’s friend is.”
The speakers emphasized that support for victims of domestic violence could be found at all levels of the community. Darai said she has already met with individual first responders to teach them how to better treat domestic violence victims.
“The support that you will get from all these agencies will be remarkable,” John Georges, an EMS commander of Cataldo Ambulance Service, said.
The candelit parade caused a small traffic jam in Union Square, but Fallon said he was not worried about the traffic.
“People should be inconvenienced,” he said. “We have to let the people in the community know we are here to support them.”
Darai said she hopes to continue to engage the Somerville community, including the Tufts community.
Within the Office of Somerville Commissions, community members focus on topics such as women’s issues, human rights and multicultural affairs, she said.
“Anyone with a Somerville address is free to join [the Commissions],” Darai said. “And not enough Tufts students join.”
Darai said the community aspect of addressing domestic violence is important.
“All of us can improve … If we do it together, we really can change the world,” she said.
Corrections: A few changes were made to the original article, including an edit to indicate that Sonja Darai reached out to teens approximately a year ago from the vigil date about domestic violence and that the agenda launch for the PeaceKeepers program occurred at the vigil itself. The previous version of the article also misattributed information about the broad range of victims of domestic violence to the PeaceKeepers, when in fact it was stated by Tiffany Mendelez. Additionally, the original article was incorrect to state that Darai will meet with first responders to teach them how to treat domestic violence victims and has been changed to reflect that Darai has already met with first responders. Finally, while Mayor Curtatone was not at the vigil itself, he and his office did help to organize the event, which the current version of the article better reflects. The Daily regrets these errors.