Calais Shines a Light on Domestic Violence

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Town News
Celebrating the lighting of a symbolic tree in Memorial Park are a group of supporters working to raise awareness of domestic violence on Saturday, October 3rd. The tree will remain lit for the month of October. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

The cold winds of Tuesday, October 3rd were not enough to deter a devoted group of supporters and advocates from showing their commitment to raising awareness of domestic violence. Approximately two dozen people met at the First Congregational Church in Calais before marching to Memorial Park as a procession brandishing multiple signs bearing slogans such as “There’s no excuse for abuse” and “Hands are not for hitting”. Once in Memorial Park, a tree adorned with 1,000 purple lights was ceremoniously lit as part of a multiple-location event across Washington and Hancock Counties. 

“This is amazing,” said Mary Mitchell, who was the Next Step coordinator assigned to Calais for the Shine a Light movement. Mitchell praised the businesses and individuals of the Calais area that contributed more than $2,000 to sponsor the lights on the tree in just two weeks’ time. “This is going to be a yearly event.” 

This was the first year that Next Step has organized the Shine a Light project, and Calais was the first city approached to host a tree. Deer-Isle Stonington, Ellsworth, and Machias also hosted trees, all of which were strung with 1,000 lights. Every light, sold for $10 each, represents an individual assisted by Next Step in a single year. The goal of the project was to raise $10,000; however, with ardent support from the participating communities, more than double was collected.

During the ceremony, several speakers addressed those that had gathered. One of the speakers, Megan Laffey, is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. Laffey described how difficult it can be to speak openly about having gone through such an experience, but said how important it is to do so. “The situations we accept as adults are usually things we learn to accept as children, and this vicious cycle needs to be broken,” Laffey said. “If speaking about my experience helps at least one person, gives one person strength, allows one person to come to their truth, lets one person know others understand, or gives someone hope for a better life, then my feelings of vulnerability and insecurities are justified.” 

Another speaker, Calais Police Chief David Randall, also shared the importance of recognizing that domestic abuse is cyclical in nature. He said that his officers today are arresting the grandchildren of people he once arrested for the same crime. “They see it every day and think it’s normal,” Randall said. “If you’re locked behind a wall and that’s all you see, day after day after day, that’s normal to them.” Randall said that pressure needs to be placed appropriately to ensure proper handling of domestic abuse cases. “Moving forward, we need to make sure judges order counseling for abusers,” Randall said. “The DA office needs to prosecute cases to the fullest. Judges need to put bail conditions on perpetrators to save lives.”

For Dawn Smith, who works locally to advocate for bullying awareness, stopping domestic violence goes hand-in-hand with stopping bullying. Smith explained that individuals that bully can become domestic abusers, pet abusers, elder abusers, and more. “Research supports the fact that children who continually use bullying behavior grow up to be adults that use bullying behavior,” Smith said. “We must help minimize bullying and exposure to bullying behavior by creating responsible, kind citizens who are our future leaders.”

Organizations, businesses and individuals in the Calais area demonstrated their support of raising awareness of domestic violence by sponsoring lights on the tree. The largest local supporter was Pratt, which purchased a full strand of lights, followed by Calais Motor Inn, Tradewinds Shop n’ Save, and McDonald’s, each of which purchased a half strand. 

The tree in Memorial Park will remain lit for the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The Shine a Light event is anticipated to be held again next year in Calais, with the possibility of using a tree in Triangle Park next year.