BY TINA PAPPAS
Purple lighting illuminated the Little Falls Municipal Building on Oct.15, as the Little Falls Domestic Violence Prevention Committee held its annual Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil for the Township.
Councilman Al Kahwaty helped coordinate the event, which turned out several dozen attendees comprised of committee members, township officials, and members of the community. Representatives of the Passaic County Women’s Center (PCWC) were also in attendance. Kahwaty spoke during the vigil of the importance of letting people know that if they find themselves in an abusive situation, it is not unique and they are not alone.
“They’re not out on an island, and we could be their lifeline,” he said. “I’m here to encourage you to be supportive of those people who you know are victims and reach out to them. To let them know that nights like tonight are happening in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”
Mayor James Damiano also spoke to those in attendance and said that in particular during the current pandemic with regard to the lockdown, many people have had to spend more time with one another at home with no outlet.
“Bringing attention and awareness to this issue is ever more important during these times, although it’s always important,” he explained. “This pandemic has really shined an additional light on the importance of people who need an outlet and to express the concerns that they’re having, so they are not taking it out on someone they love at home.”
Damiano then read the mayor’s proclamation declaring October 2020 as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Little Falls.” He emphasized that domestic violence is widespread, affecting over 4 million Americans each year, with 1 in 3 Americans having witnessed an incident of domestic violence. Pastor Emily Ratering-Youngberg, of the First Reformed Church of Little Falls, gave an opening prayer.
A survivor of domestic violence, who chose to have her name withheld, also spoke to attendees. A mother of five children, she gave a compelling story depicting years of abuse at the hands of her husband who was a 9/11 survivor, and who she said was dealing with ongoing survivor’s guilt at losing many coworkers during the attacks.
“He was experiencing post-trauma and my children and I didn’t know how to help him,” she said, and gave numerous examples of the abuse she and her children endured for many years. She then spoke of the cycle of abuse, a pattern that develops between the abuser and the victim over time, adding that domestic violence and bullying starts by “seeping.”
“The tension builds and then an incident occurs, after which the abuser says they are sorry and would never do it again,” she explained. “It seeps, and it all starts over again because they want to blow steam and you’re the target.”
She also said the situation of domestic violence with the current pandemic’s lockdown is an ongoing problem today.
“A lot of people are locked in their homes and they don’t know where to go and who to talk, so they are very vulnerable,” she noted. “But if you notice someone who doesn’t look right – it may be a child, an elderly person, or someone else in the community – that rule is, ‘see something, say something.'”
Additionally, she commended the police and sheriff’s department, including other individuals who helped her during the years where she was experiencing domestic violence.
Karen Lopez, Certified Sexual Violence Advocate Coordinator for the PCWC, also spoke during the vigil.
“I always say that when I’m presenting or am in a conversation, that I really wish that I could be put out of work because I want domestic and sexual violence to end,” she said. “And unfortunately, we’re here.”
She then emphasized that domestic violence is a crime and is never the victim’s fault, and that it is a choice to be a perpetrator of domestic violence.
“Perpetrators of domestic violence wake up in the morning and choose with purpose to abuse another human being, and leaving an abuser is never easy.” she explained.
Lopez also said that the PCWC is the state’s designated lead domestic violence and sexual assault agency in Passaic County, offering an array of services and resources, to women and children since 1986.
Photos courtesy of the Township of Little Falls