By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Shrewsbury residents are invited to gather in the Town Common tonight at 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. for a vigil to remember the victims and survivors of domestic violence.
It’s the 10th annual vigil hosted by the Against Domestic Violence in Shrewsbury Education (ADVISE) Project.
“It’s an opportunity to be able to be able to remember and honor and speak out loud the names of men and women and children who have been killed in domestic violence situations in Massachusetts since January of 2021,” said co-chair Julie Nason in a recent interview.
The vigil will be canceled if there is inclement weather.
Under current plans, the vigil will remember 11 victims including 10 women and one man, she said.
It will feature Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury) and a representative from Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early’s office, as well as representatives from the Shrewsbury Police Department and organizations that support survivors and work to end domestic violence.
Nason hopes to highlight the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence.
Indeed, the pandemic impacted people’s financial security and restricted people to their homes, which Nason said exacerbated the risks for violence within the community.
Shelters have been very full while also taking precautions during the pandemic, she said.
People had called ADVISE’s hotline. Nason said they had difficulty placing people in shelters, though they were successful.
“It was definitely a more difficult situation during COVID,” Nason said.
Last year marked ADVISE’s 30th anniversary, but they missed the celebration due to the pandemic.
The organization was founded by a group of citizens, who Nason said “became aware there was sort of a gap in care for people who were experiencing domestic violence.”
All of the community was invited to participate in a task force to assess it and determine what action could be taken.
Nason said ADVISE partnered with the Shrewsbury Police Department and, after being trained, accompanied officers on domestic violence calls to help the victims access care and to know what support options were available
“It was in the middle of the night. It was at all hours, and these were people who had regular jobs and kids at home,” Nason said. “In my mind, it was really a heroic intervention and start to the group.”
The SPD later hired a domestic violence liaison and ADVISE members were no longer needed to go on the calls.
ADVISE worked with Shrewsbury middle and high schools to offer age-appropriate education on dating violence, support shelters, partner with other organizations and hold awareness events, like the Clothesline Project.
Every year, ADVISE hopes domestic violence will become less of a problem such that the vigil won’t be needed. In the past several years, though, instances of violence and domestic violence have increased, Nason said.
Silence and shame empowers the perpetrators, she said.
“It seems ever-important to speak about it in a public space and encourage this public discourse about domestic violence,” Nason said.