‘Silent Witnesses’ unveiled
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 09:49
PERRYSBURG — On a Monday morning just three weeks ago it became red-hot real.
|Julia Strange speaks about domestic violence Monday night during the Silent Witness Unveiling Project at the Greater Toledo Islamic Center. (Photos: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
That’s the day long-time victim advocate, Peace Corps alum and current U.S. Navy sexual assault prevention and response analyst Julia Strange finally “got it.”
Strange, 32, a Bowling Green native, was hurrying to work, struggling not to be late to her job as she rushed off the transit train and set out on her seven-block walk to the Washington Navy Yard.
Enroute, Strange got a text from her boss: “Heard there’ve been shots fired. Don’t come in to work; go home.”
“I felt raw fear,” Strange said.
As the world soon learned, a lone gunman was in the process of fatally shooting 12 people and injuring three others in a mass shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside her place of work — the Washington Navy Yard. The attack that began around 8:20 a.m. ended up becoming the second-deadliest mass murder on a U.S. military base after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting in Texas.
“That’s when it all changed for me,” Strange now realizes, as her intellectual knowledge of “terror, fear and anxiety felt by women every day” was transformed into first-hand, visceral and emotional knowledge.
Were her coworkers alive or dead? How close had she herself come to dying, to meeting a violent end with no warning or preparation?
“We know according to national statistics that nearly 30 percent of women and 10 percent of men have experienced rape, stalking or domestic violence,” Strange reminded her audience Monday night during the 13th annual Northwest Ohio Silent Witness Project Unveiling Ceremony.
The 2013 ceremony was hosted by the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo on Scheider Road.
For Strange, traveling from Washington, D.C. to serve as keynote speaker for the event was a return to her beginning.
As an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University she was “the very first student volunteer for the Silent Witness Project,” according to Dr. Mary Krueger, director of the university’s Women’s Center, which sponsored Monday’s ceremony of remembrance. “She painted the first wooden figure.” She also learned that woman’s tragic story.
The Silent Witnesses are black cloth-shrouded silhouettes, each representing a woman who died violently at the hands of a husband, ex-spouse or boyfriend, or stalker.
This year’s event included a chilling 69 Silent Witnesses, the number of women murdered in northwest Ohio within the past 10 years. Nine of those deaths came in just the last year alone.
Krueger said she’d done the math, and that works out to one female murdered every seven-and-a-half weeks or so.
“Sometimes we go months without someone killing their wife or girlfriend, but sometimes — like a particularly horrific period last spring — we had three in one week.”
And we’re not talking about Los Angeles or Chicago. “These are all in northwest Ohio communities,” Kruger added — Napoleon, Perrysburg, Northwood, Toledo, Bowling Green, Bellevue.
Strange, whose resume includes a stint as an intern at Wood County’s Cocoon Shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence, has few illusions about northwest Ohio’s capacity for violence against women. It’s the same curse she’s seen in places thousands of miles away.
“In Uzbekistan,” where she was stationed as a Peace Corps volunteer, “I came to realize my neighbor” in their modest apartment building “was forced into prostitution to support herself and her children after leaving her abusive husband.”
More recently, as a victim’s advocate, she was called to come support a young mother and her three very young children at 4:30 a.m. in a D.C. police station.
“I sometimes got as many as a dozen calls in a single shift” while manning the phone at a hotline at the nation’s capital.
That’s where Strange said she learned how critical it is to “listen and believe the stories of women. Sometimes, callers would cry when I said those simple words: ‘I believe you.’”
The evening continued with a heartbreaking litany of loss, as the 69 Silent Witnesses’ biographies were read aloud, one by one:
“When I tried to end my relationship with my boyfriend he stabbed me to death with a steak knife...”
“I was an 18-year-old honor student at Northwood High School. During some ‘horseplay’ my boyfriend shot me in the head... He also had a past record of domestic violence.”
“Three of my four children were upstairs hiding at the time of my murder by my husband. I had a protection order against him hurting me or my children.”
“My 79-year-old husband bludgeoned me to death” with tools he had in the garage. I was found in my chair inside the living room. “There was evidence of defensive wounds despite the fact that I used a walker.”
“I am a 2004 graduate of Lake High School and a dental assistant in Bowling Green... My ex-boyfriend came to my apartment...”
“I am 21 and the mother of a baby girl. I live in Perrysburg Heights. In July 2012 my ex-boyfriend, the father of my child...”
“...My 14-year-old son suffered a broken jaw when he tried to protect me...”
“My ex-husband showed up at my house on Christmas Eve and shot me in the neck, arms and abdomen in front of my three children.”
Strange encouraged her audience to take concrete steps for change. “We can vote for candidates who want to dedicate resources to sexual assault prevention and services.”
Also, “we need to be willing to intervene, to get involved, even if we feel uncomfortable.”
“By challenging existing norms we all create safe spaces,” she reminded the packed auditorium.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 October 2013 10:05