Last night I attended the 18th Annual Memorial Service honoring victims of homicide as a result of domestic violence, hosted by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. This year there were 70 such homicides in Maryland. I have worked in this field professionally for one year now and was taken aback by how this service affected me. I thought I was used to the horrors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I was wrong.
The service involved public officials, state senators and delegates, community leaders, advocates, and survivors coming together to acknowledge the toll domestic violence takes on families and to reaffirm the commitment to end violence in our homes. The home, sadly, is the most dangerous place for women and children. Most women who are killed or injured by someone else suffer at the hands of someone they love, rather than at the hands of strangers.
Guest were invited to stand and hold a cardboard heart with the name, age and murder weapon of each of the 70 victims. I held Annabel Shinnaberry, 75, gun. Across the room someone held Alvin Shinnaberry, 66, gun. It was a murder-suicide and I wanted so badly to know her story. Then there was Baby Boy ___________, suffocation, a woman whose murder weapon was starvation, another, strangulation. Most were shot. I stood in the front of the room holding this heart and watching the well of the Joint Hearing Room fill up. 70 is a lot of people. 1 is too many.
Women are murdered, battered, raped, humiliated, insulted, manipulated, controlled, and degraded everyday, everywhere in the world. In America, 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before they are 18 years old. 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they are 18 years old. 93% of all of them are abused by someone they know and trust: immediate family, other relatives, family friends or neighbors. Nearly 1 in 3 adult women experience at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. Who hears their stories? Where are their voices?
Their stories and voices are with each of us. We all know and love someone who has suffered or is suffering at the hands of someone they love. Silence is injustice. Love speaks up, if only to say, “I know. I see. I love you. I’m here…no matter what you choose.”
My heart broke to hear the story of a survivor who never thought it would be her. She held the heart of her best friend. The stories are all around us if we only open our eyes, if we only want to see.
There are no silver bullets. But, do something. Anything is better than silence. Be the voice of the voiceless.