Red silhouettes speak silent words of domestic violence prevention

27 Oct 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

In 1953, country legend Hank Williams released the song “Kaw-liga” detailing the life of a wooden Native American statue that fell in love with a maiden statue. The theme of the song was that, being made of wood, he could not profess his love for the maiden, who was eventually bought and taken away without knowledge of Kaw-liga’s affections.

The very premise of the song is much akin to a yearly initiative taken throughout the nation to combat the practice of and raise awareness about domestic violence. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune followed suit when, during the first two weeks of October, multiple wooden figures stood in various locations aboard the base to help in the effort of stamping out domestic violence.

While these silhouettes may seem akin to Kaw-liga in terms of substance, what sets them apart is how their intentions and message do not go unnoticed.

“What these wooden figures represent are men, women and children affected by incidents of domestic violence,” said Joele Phillips, education and intervention specialist with the Family Advocacy Program. “When their bright red appearances catch the eye of passers-by, it helps spread the message that domestic violence is real, not just something you may rarely hear about.”

The Silent Witness National Initiative, working within the Domestic Violence Awareness month timeframe, began in 1990 in response to the growing number of domestic violence deaths in Minnesota. Twenty-six life-sized, red wooden cutouts were created in commemoration of the 26 domestic violence homicide victims in the state, bearing the names and stories of each of the individuals on accompanying plaques. A 27th figure was made to represent the remaining deaths not credited to domestic violence incidents.

One year later, 800 silent witnesses stood throughout the country with North Carolina utilizing more than 60 to spread awareness. Aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, silent witness figures stood in John A. Lejeune Hall, the Marine Corps Exchange, Marston Pavilion and other locations throughout the installation.

“We borrow these silhouettes from Fort Bragg and utilize them for the first two weeks of October – the latter half of the month they go over to (Marine Corps Air Station) New River,” said Melissa Davis, a clinical social worker with the FAP. “However, our job here at the Community Counseling Center doesn’t stop at raising awareness. Not only are these red figures opening the eyes of many, but hopefully making a few people come forward with their own stories.”

For fiscal year 2011, the CCC handled 213 domestic abuse cases alongside 148 child abuse cases aboard the base. That is 361 incidents involving service members where a verbal or physical assault was carried out, sometimes with traumatizing or detrimental consequences.

“Last fiscal year, the number of domestic abuse cases was 145,” said Phillips. “While it might be alarming to see that number rise as much as it did, it means more people are becoming aware of our services and not afraid to seek help. Any number, however, is still a concern.”

The Victim Advocacy Program offered through the CCC is available 24/7 with a service hotline for those who feel they may have been victims of a domestic violence incident.

The silent witness silhouettes stand as a reminder that the reality of domestic violence is not just prevalent but could also occur to anyone at any time. Awareness and aversion is the key to helping to reduce the number of cases aboard MCB Camp Lejeune.

“A lot of people may not even think twice about hearing a story about someone hitting or talking down to their spouse, but it is an everyday occurrence,” said Davis. “Our goal is to reduce, if not dispel, all incidents, and for that to happen more people need to come forward and be proactive in knowing how to prevent triggers of domestic violence in their own home.”