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Silent Witnesses Speak Loud Message Against Domestic Violence

Silent Witness organizer Amy Cook, Ph.D., (right) chair of the Wilder School's Criminal Justice program, and student volunteer Roxanna Dodson stand next to some of the life-sized cutouts that visually represent the victims of intimate partner violence.
Silent Witness organizer Amy Cook, Ph.D., (right) chair of the Wilder School's Criminal Justice program, and student volunteer Roxanna Dodson stand next to some of the life-sized cutouts that visually represent the victims of intimate partner violence.

October 2, 2018

By Pamela Stallsmith

“Remember my story. Remember my name.”

Sylvia C. Gregory of Richmond was murdered on June 9, 1997, at age 21, “destroyed… with verbal and physical abuse.” Gwen Lee Beyer Kaull of Chesterfield County died when an abuser shot her to death on January 10, 1999, leaving behind a son and family who continue to mourn her brutal killing.

Their stories are among those captured in VCU’s 2018 Silent Witness Exhibit, part of the university’s annual observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This week, Oct. 1-5, the exhibit is on display on the second floor of the James Branch Cabell Library.

Walk up the main stairway and you’ll be greeted by six life-sized, red cutouts that serve as visual representations of victims of intimate partner violence. A brass plaque tells each person’s story. An information table staffed by student volunteers offers resources from the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance and VCU’s Wellness Resource Center.

 

Personalizing the Stories of Victims

“We talk about domestic violence, but when you can see the cutouts and read the stories it strikes a chord with students,” said Amy Cook, Ph.D., chair of the Wilder School’s Criminal Justice program who’s organized the exhibit since 2015. Students from two of her courses -- Introduction to Criminology and Criminological Theory – staff the exhibit.

“The exhibit personalizes the victim’s stories and brings to life the cruel and very real experience of domestic violence,” said Cook, who aspires to have a service learning class where students make the life size silhouettes for those who are not currently memorialized by the exhibit.

“My hope is if students have a friend going through something like this or if they are, they will find the resources they need.”

Next week, the display will move to the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, which is also hosting though Nov. 3 the National Library of Medicine traveling banner exhibit, Confronting Violence: Improving Women's Lives. This banner display will be set up in the Tompkins-McCaw Library Special Collections Reading Room. A short documentary film, Domestic Violence and Healthcare, will be shown there on Oct. 11 followed by a panel discussion including Cook.

 

Chilling National and State Statistics

Intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million each year, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. On average, more than 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men ages 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

In Virginia, a 2015 analysis by the Virginia Department of Health showed that 124 homicides were attributable to family and intimate partner violence. The Family and Intimate Partner Report showed that 69 percent of the homicides involved intimate partners and family members, while 31 percent involved deaths of those killed in a context of an intimate partner relationship, violence between family members, or child abuse and neglect by a caregiver. Among all victims, 55 percent were male—an important change in the demographic distribution compared to recent years.

“It’s really important to raise awareness about this issue, which isn’t just local or national but also occurs globally,” said Roxanna Dodson, a student volunteer and junior who’s double-majoring in criminal justice and psychology. “It doesn’t matter what generation you, what your ethnic background is, or your socio-economic level. It’s a major issue, and a lot of people have died from it.”