"Students and community members came together to honor victims of domestic violence." Frank Huang | Mustang News

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, sexual assault resources Cal Poly Safer, RISE and the Women’s Shelter Program (WSP) hosted a candlelight vigil Oct. 12 in the Mission Plaza.  According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 20 people experience physical abuse by intimate partners per minute in the United States. 

Between 40 and 50 people attended the vigil, including Cal Poly students and staff, elected city officials, families and community members.

“I want people to see that this matters,” Safer Coordinator Kara Samaniego said. “This could be your friend, this could be your partner, your sister, your brother.”

Environmental management and protection senior Hannah Chou went not only to support her roommate, who spoke at the vigil, but also to show her strength as a survivor of domestic violence.

“There’s so much more freedom when you get out of it,” Chou said. “It’s so cliché to say you are not alone, but I wouldn’t be as confident and as strong as I am today without my friends who were able to tell me that they had seen something was wrong.”

Each of the organizations involved in the event had booths lining the plaza, with volunteers handing out information about their causes and how to get involved.  The WSP booth included certificates attendees could sign as part of an Instagram campaign called #BreakTheSilence.  This campaign aims to educate and spread awareness of domestic violence.

“We are hoping to bring everyone together everyone in solidarity,” WSP Development and Communications Coordinator Vivien Devany said.

Speakers at the vigil included San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and representatives from Safer, RISE and WSP, as well as from Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham’s and Senator Bill Monning’s offices.  Solidarity and community were common themes throughout the night.

“Intimate partner violence knows no boundaries, it crosses all lines,” RISE Executive Director Jennifer Adams said. “But there’s one thing that all victims share here in the United States, and that’s the insidious nature of our culture that continually blames the victim for what happens to them.  One of the most powerful things we can all do is believe victims.”

In a recent proclamation, San Luis Obispo city council designated the month of October as Domestic Violence
Awareness Month.

  “This issue is of primary importance to me and to the rest of the city council and staff,” Harmon said. “We are a community that is standing up tonight and saying collectively that we will not stand for violence in our community, and a peaceful community is possible if we work together.”

Harmon shared statistics about domestic violence at the vigil, shedding light on the 10 million abuse victims affected annually.  Harmon also said the San Luis Obispo Police Department is dedicated to responding diligently to all reports of intimate
partner violence.

Robin Mitchell Hee, president of WSP board of directors, spoke about her own experience as a survivor of domestic violence.

“Abuse is like venom, and it paralyzes you with fear.  A constant trembling of the body, a dizziness in your head and a racing heart become almost like chronic symptoms,” Mitchell Hee said.  “The situation and this life you are living continue to escalate and get worse and worse, until that day you make the choice to leave. And this time it’s for the last time.”

During the speeches, candles were handed out to the audience and lit as names and stories of those who have lost their lives were read.  Representatives from Safer, WSP and RISE relayed these accounts, which honored several children and adult victims this year in California. 

A moment of silence followed for these and the hundreds of other domestic violence victims.  Local singer Sam Flynn concluded the event with an a capella performance of “Hallelujah” and was joined by the voices of several members of the audience.

“If you’re concerned about somebody, bring it up with a friend, come to Safer and talk with us about it,” Samaniego said. “But don’t be silent about it.  That’s what leads to communities losing their members and children losing their mothers and fathers.  People should be outraged about it.”

Help is available for anyone in need.  Call the 24-hour crisis line for WSP at (805)-781-6400 or for RISE at (855)-886-RISE.  All three resources will be hosting a farmer’s market booth Oct.19 from 6 – 9 p.m.

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