Two red silhouettes visited campus last week, harbingers of a campaign by the Silent Witness Project.
The Silent Witness Initiative began in 1990 as an awareness campaign against domestic violence. Now organizations from all fifty states participate in programs designed to educate people about the proliferation of domestic violence resulting in murder.
“This is something that is affecting members of our community,” said Rose Stanton, outreach director of the NWA Women’s Shelter. The shelter is sponsoring the Silent Witness project all over northwest Arkansas.
“We all know someone who’s affected by domestic violence, whether we are aware of it or not,” Stanton said. “The more that we’re aware, the more that we can end the cycle.”
The University’s silhouettes represent a man who was allegedly shot by his girlfriend and a woman who was killed by her estranged husband. Together with the other silhouettes scattered across Washington, Benton, and Carol counties, they represent 16 women, 9 men, and 5 children, all victims of domestic violence who died last year. The silhouettes pop up in unexpected places, such as restaurants and local businesses.
The placement of the silhouettes may seem odd to some, but represents just how common domestic violence is, Stanton said.
For senior Krista Gay, co-leader of Students against Sex Slavery, the issue of domestic violence is as close as Stanton suggested. When she was ten, her infant cousin Cadence fell victim to domestic violence.
“My family has pretended it didn’t happen. It’s easier for everyone to pretend she didn’t exist,” Gay said. Gay added that the issue is more common than people think.
“Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of gender,” Stanton said. “People are dying, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Gay agrees, adding that awareness is needed in an environment where domestic violence is considered taboo.
“There is no better place to hide from the cruelties of the world than at a Christian college,” she said. “You can’t talk about that stuff here, [and] if you don’t know there’s a problem, you can’t fix it.”
“Hopefully [the silhouettes] will get people talking,” Stanton said. “We hope to provoke a meaningful dialogue. They’re meant to shock people.”
Both Gay and Stanton discussed how students can take an active role to stand against domestic abuse in their everyday lives. Stanton encouraged students to watch for the signs of domestic abuse. Obviously, mysterious bruises and marks on someone’s body can be an indication of violence, but Stanton also said to watch for people becoming withdrawn and isolated by their significant others. Stanton also said it is vitally important to listen and be understanding.
“If someone does share with you that they’re suffering, the best thing you can do is believe that person. If you’re not sure, try to be available. Let them know that they deserve a life free from violence,” she said.
Gay urged students to become educated on the subject.
“If we don’t know about it, we’re making ourselves victims,” she said. Gay added that it’s easy to fall into the trap of an abusive relationship if you aren’t aware of the signs.
However, ultimately the choice to escape from an abusive relationship is the victim’s, Stanton said. The goal of the project is just as much to empower victims as it is to educate others.
The Silent Witness Project will end this week with a gathering in Centennial Park in Rogers, at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The gathering will honor those lost to domestic violence and educate those who wish to know more.