By Francesca Norsen Tate
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Survivors of physical abuse are getting their message out through the arts.
Last week, The Safe Homes Project, through Good Shepherd Services, sponsored “Flags of Hope,” a crafts project to memorialize those who died as a result of domestic violence and to build solidarity among survivors. Their mission is to educate the wider community on recognition and prevention of abuse in children, adults and the elderly, and on the many resources available to help and protect victims of domestic violence.
For 18 years, the Safe Homes Project of Good Shepherd Services (formerly known as the Park Slope Safe Homes Project), has conducted an annual candle light vigil in October. This year, Safe Homes has collaborated with the Park Slope United Methodist Church to present a different, creative event, a first of its kind in Park Slope.
Although the Park Slope United Methodist Church hosted this event, the program was secular in nature. The event began outdoors after dusk with a candlelight ceremony, during which the names of those who had died at the hands of their abusers were read. Many were children, former sweethearts and family members.
One young lady, identifying herself as Antoinette, gave a chilling testimony of her experience of meeting and marrying the man she thought was Mr. Right. She described in graphic detail how his behavior changed from romantic to violent, and how he frightened her into staying dependent on him.
Catherine Hodes, director of the Safe Homes Project, pointed out that many people — particularly women — don’t speak up about being abused. Often, they fear the family member abusing them. They have been cut off from their friends and have no moneyor place to stay.
Often, abuse victims are blamed by others — and even themselves — for what is happening to them. The “national call” for victims to leave their abusers is too simplistic, Hodes said.
“There is usually no discussion of how to do that, what the obstacles and the risks are, who gets to leave, and how to call for safety when leaving,” Hodes said. “Violence is depicted as a problem that can be solved by leaving. But many of us here know that violence sometimes increases or gets worse when someone tries to leave.”
She added that “going back might be a safety device.” She also cited obstacles that victims face when trying to leave their abusers: lack of money or child care, affording housing. Arrests, orders of protections, and other forms of criminal justice cannot address all forms of violence.”
Moreover, said Hodes, “some survivors love their abusers. They make a choice to stay. They want the relationship to continue, but the abuse to stop.”
City Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope/Carroll Gardens) commended the Safe Homes Project for its work. Pointing out the annual commemoration in recent years has seen fewer candles being lit for those who perished, he said, “But we have to get to a year when there are no candles, and until then we are not doing enough.”
Also among those present was Tonya Rapley, representing the YWCA of Brooklyn. Several participants, who identified themselves as victims or friends of abuse victims, chose not to give their names or be photographed.
During the flag-making event, which was held in the church’s community room, participants drew, painted or pasted messages of hope, peace, and safety onto a piece of fabric. The Sanctuaries for Families Mentors presented “Zero Tolerance,” a choreographed poetry reading.
These flags created in community will be displayed in the Park Slope United Methodist Church sanctuary and at the YWCA of Brooklyn during the coming “Week Without Violence,” (Oct. 15 to 20), to remember those that have been lost, support those that survive, and to take a public stand for justice and peace, and against domestic violence.
Concluding the program was a self-defense demonstration in the garden, with Gabriella Belfiglio and colleagues of the Center for Anti-Violence Education.
The Safe Homes Project started over 35 years ago by Good Shepherd Services in collaboration with the Park Slope community, exists to combat domestic violence, and provide support and assistance to survivors. Services offered include a hotline, shelter, counseling, safety planning, and advocacy, as well as community outreach, training and education.