One out of every four women and one out of every seven men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of domestic violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, with females between the ages of 18 to 24 generally experiencing the highest rates of intimate partner violence. To shine a light on this issue and pay tribute to survivors of domestic violence, Niagara University hosted the fourth annual “Surviving…Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art,” Oct. 3, 2019, at the Castellani Art Museum on the university’s campus.
The event was held in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and organizers tied it to the Red Flag Campaign, a national public awareness initiative designed to encourage college students to intervene when they see a warning sign (“red flag”) of partner violence. The university partnered with several community agencies in organizing the event, including Pinnacle Community Services and the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier, who provided more than 80 pieces of artwork created by survivors of domestic violence participating in their programs.
Four separate collections were on display, including “Unmasking Domestic Violence,” which featured masks that symbolized survivors’ experiences; “Building Resilience” and “Resilience Stones,” artwork created by adults, children, and families affected by domestic violence to represent the strength that helped them to survive; and “Visions of Strength, Voices of Survivors” which paired courageous personal survivor narratives with black and white images.
“All of these pieces were created by survivors as a form of art healing, a way for their voices to be heard and a way to raise awareness of the impact domestic violence has in our very own community,” said Larissa Bachman, director of Passage Domestic Violence Services at Pinnacle Community Services.
In addition to the artwork, the event featured the “Silent Witness Project,” a reconstruction of a national traveling memorial honoring individuals who were killed in acts of domestic violence. The 21 black silhouettes, each with the name and date of death of a Niagara County domestic violence victim, represent the number of victims as of 2016. “The Clothesline Project,” a collection of T-shirts with messages to raise awareness of domestic and sexual violence, was displayed outside the front doors of the museum.
Karen Sims, a resident care worker with Passage Domestic Violence Services and a survivor of domestic violence, shared her experience with the approximately 200 Niagara University students and community members in attendance.
“About 20 years ago, with my daughter, I was a resident there (Passage),” she said. “I always said I was in and out of the shelter like running water. Each time I went back, the abuse I experienced got worse. After many times of trying to leave and almost losing my life, I was able to stay long enough to break away from him. If not for the program and the right timing, I would not be here today. Today’s event is important for many reasons, but the most important is to know that there is support out there. Everyone’s experience is different, but the more we know, the more we can help someone going through abuse.”
“We have branded ourselves at Niagara the power of Niagara University and the power is people coming together around a cause and with a presence and with a vision,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president. “And that’s what we celebrate this evening. You are on the journey, it’s a long and arduous journey, but we’re on it together. So let’s continue to use tonight as a way that we strengthen ourselves in this critical work and have the commitment that we are part of the solution as we go forward.”
Dr. Jennifer Beebe, associate professor of counseling/education, and Dr. Dana Radatz, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, spearheaded the program on the NU campus.
“I’m really pleased with the success of tonight and the turnout. It’s so nice to see so many student faces,” said Beebe. “I hope this leaves an impression in their hearts, so that not only have we increased awareness, but that they read the stories and they feel in their hearts something that makes them call to action, makes them create some change.”
“If we reach one person who felt as if they walked away having more knowledge about what to do, or having more knowledge about understanding how to respond to victims, then I think it’s a success,” Radatz added.
The two professors have conducted research on the issue of domestic violence--Beebe’s focus has been on the training of counselors so that they can more effectively work with survivors, while Radatz has analyzed programs that teach offenders alternatives to violence. Together, they are researching the effectiveness of Pinnacle’s support group interventions in promoting the healing and empowerment of survivors in the hope that their findings will provide justification for future grant funding opportunities for the program. They were recently awarded the Niagara University Vincentian Poverty Grant to support this work.
In addition to raising awareness, the event raised approximately $600 that will be donated to the Pinnacle Community Services Passage House and Domestic Violence Services.
Other community partners in this effort included the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, the New York State Police, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Victim Assistance Unit & Domestic Violence Intervention Program, and the Niagara Falls Police Department Domestic Violence Unit.