Domestic Violence Awareness Month Comes to a Close with Red Flag Week

The following has been re-printed from Iris with permission from the author.

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Dozens of T-shirts lined the perimeter of the Lawn  in the last week of October, designed with messages like, “It’s my childhood.  Don’t rush me.” and “Love shouldn’t hurt.”

These were displayed as part of U.Va.’s chapter of the Clothesline Project, a national program where victims of domestic violence design T-shirts sharing their stories and expressing their feelings. The t-shirts are displayed anonymously in public as a testimony to the prevalence of this issue in today’s society.

This project served as a part of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center’s Red Flag Week, the last week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and stems from The Red Flag Campaign. This national campaign started in Virginia and seeks to target university students who are friends/peers of victims and perpetrators of dating violence, educate them about “red flags” or warning indicators of dating violence, and encourage them to “say something.”

In addition to the Clothesline Project, as a part of Red Flag Week, the Women’s Center and Sigma Psi Zeta tabled on the Lawn, giving students the opportunity to decorate red flags with messages about healthy relationships and words of support for survivors to plant underneath the Clothesline.  As an intern at the Women’s Center, I volunteered with them during this event, and helped hand out “Say Something” stickers shaped like red flags and coffee sleeves that read “Espresso your love with respect.”

Stephanie Asante, an intern for the Gender Violence and Social Change program in the U.Va. Women’s Center, explained to me the importance of this event.

“Red Flag Week is important because it allows anyone going through any of these issues to know that they are not alone in the fight,” she says.  “It lets victims, survivors and bystanders know that there are many resources out there willing to help.  It encourages people to speak up and let their voices be heard.”

Another inspiring and informative Red Flag Week event, the Survivors’ Panel, consisted of a panel of women, several of them survivors, who educated the audience on the prevalence of relationship violence in our society.

A major topic of discussion at the panel was the changing views of domestic violence in our culture.  One panelist, a female judge in a Charlottesville court, recalls that 20 years ago, one man’s sentence for violence against his wife was to take her out to dinner. Today, the first offense is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.  After three offenses, the crime is elevated to a Class 6 felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

However, the panel emphasized that while the culture has changed drastically, there is still room to grow and improve.  Although the legal system holds offenders of domestic violence accountable for their actions more so than they did 20 years ago, the crime still widely occurs, with 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men being victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.

“I think about it the same way I think about women’s suffrage,” said one panelist.  “Not so long ago, the thought of women being allowed to vote was completely unfathomable.  Maybe one day, the idea of violence in a relationship will seem as ridiculous to us as women not having the right to vote.”

Above all, the panel stressed that, although Domestic Violence Awareness Month has come to an end, we should not stop using our voices, we should not hesitate to reach out to somebody, and we should not be afraid to say something, because a childhood should not be rushed and love should not hurt.

 Story and photos by: Alaina Segura