Rally promotes end to violence

By Amanda Reavy

Light rain and high winds did not stop a group of about 20 people from gathering Friday night outside of the Champaign County Courthouse to show their support for victims of domestic violence at the Communities United Against Domestic Violence rally and candlelight vigil.

The rally, presented by A Woman’s Fund Inc. and the University’s Office of Women’s Programs, kicked off National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

A Woman’s Fund is a local nonprofit community organization that supports Rape Crisis Services and A Woman’s Place, a domestic violence shelter for women. The Office of Women’s Programs provides support for students affected by domestic violence through services such as helping them to obtain an order of protection, filing a report with the University or with police, joining support groups or receiving individual guidance, said Pat Morey, director of the Office of Women’s Programs.

Lisa Carlson, A Woman’s Place medical advocate and rally chair, said the event was to raise awareness about the occurrence of domestic violence and to celebrate the community’s efforts to end the problem in the Champaign-Urbana area.

According to Carlson, there have been 531 identified victims of domestic violence in Champaign County since Jan. 1.

In 2001, the Office of Women’s Programs researched the incidence of dating abuse on campus. Her research indicated that out of those students surveyed who were dating someone or had been in a dating relationship, 86 percent had experienced some form of abuse in their relationship.

Eighty-four percent of that number said they had experienced psychological abuse, 35 percent reported experiencing sexual abuse and 22 percent reported physical abuse, Morey said.

Only 15 percent of the students surveyed were familiar with local domestic violence services, Morey said. Through Friday’s vigil, Morey said she wanted students to know where to go for help. She also said she wanted people who were experiencing domestic violence or know someone who is experiencing domestic violence to realize they have rights and deserve to be safe.

The rally began at 5:15 p.m. with a poem about a battered woman’s escape from her abuser, read by Morey. Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart proclaimed on behalf of the cities of Champaign and Urbana declaring October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and announcing that the community would support a zero-tolerance policy toward domestic violence.

The event featured speakers including Morey and a representative of Men Against Sexual Violence (MASV), a University registered student organization committed to the elimination of all forms of sexual violence. Speakers emphasized removing the blame from women who were in abusive relationships and holding men responsible for their actions.

Inner Voices, a social issue theatre group at the University, performed skits highlighting the danger and emotional turmoil of domestic violence for victims and families.

The rally ended with a candlelight vigil to remember past and present victims of family violence.

“We remember people being affected by domestic violence everyday and the children who witness it and sometimes repeat it, creating the endless cycle of violence,” Morey said.

Pat Nolan, an Urbana resident and A Woman’s Fund board member, brought her two granddaughters to introduce them to the issue of domestic violence.

“These are safety and real life issues I want them to know about, and in a non-threatening situation (such as Friday evening), it is always easier,” she said.

Elizabeth Labedz, freshman in LAS and member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Feminist Majority, said she came to Friday night’s rally because she liked to support women’s issues and wanted to learn about domestic violence.

“It was awesome how many guys were here,” Labedz said. “I also liked the comment on don’t blame it on women because they don’t always have the choice to leave.”

Labedz said she was inspired to get involved in more domestic violence causes after Friday’s rally.

“I hope everyone who leaves (here) will be moved on a personal level to do something no matter how it touches their lives” Morey said.