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DVAM15October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and on Friday night, I took my son to a candlelight vigil.

It wasn’t the most fun outing we’ve ever been on, but Jax seemed a combination of puzzled and thrilled to be out after dark, bundled up and wheeled around in his stroller.

My stepmom, Jax’s Mimi, went with us. It’s hard to do these things alone.

There was a good turnout, for a windy and potentially rainy evening. I’d estimate there were 35 people in front of the local courthouse. I recognized a few faces: the sweet girl who cuts my hair was there with her boyfriend, and a woman I always see at the farmer’s market was chasing her daughter around. Men put arms around their wives.

We listened to representatives from the DV shelter, Huntingdon House, speak about the work they do, from counseling to emergency shelter placement to assistance with Protection from Abuse orders. The numbers, as usual, were staggering.

In 2014, the good people of HH helped 445 women, and I am one of them.

They offered over 4,000 hours of counseling, over 2,000 nights in shelter, and answered 600+ hotline calls. They started the Michael Ayers Law Project, which is funded to offer trauma-informed legal assistance to DV survivors seeking protection and custody.

And they had to turn away 71 women who came to them, because their resources only go so far.

One speaker assured us they didn’t close their doors to these women, but helped them find placement in other programs or offered transportation to the homes of friends and relatives who could assist or house them temporarily. Still, 71 women took the courageous step toward leaving abusive situations and the funds just couldn’t support them. That fact broke my heart. Then it broke a little more when I learned Huntingdon House recently had to lay off several wonderful staffers.

Then, the candles. Each slim white taper bore the name of a victim who didn’t survive last year. My hands shook as I read the name on my candle. My stepmom’s candle had a man’s name written on it, and we were reminded that of all the stigmas surrounding DV, we can’t forget that men can be victims, too.

Jax entertained himself playing a memory/matching game on my phone, and made a few people around us smile when a train came through town and he shrieked, “Choo choo!” My stepmom and I pinned purple ribbons to our hoodies and tried not to cry when a man stood up and spoke of his wife’s childhood experience with DV, and how he just recently learned that his daughter is living in an abusive household. A young woman came forward then and implored the crowd to believe people when they say they’re being abused, to offer whatever support we can, and to try to keep ourselves and others informed.

It was meaningful to me to take my son to such an event, because no matter what an abuser’s BS reasons for doing what he does, no matter how vehemently he insists he’d “never hurt the children,” 1) there are no guarantees a child won’t also be hit, and 2) the damage to a child who witnesses assault and violence in the home can be catastrophic. My reasons for leaving my abuser were 90% about protecting my son from that damage. I realized, as I stood in that half-circle, that, mother or not, I have every right to more than 10% concern for myself, my continued existence without fear and daily degradation, my happiness.

I want to say that all those little lights from our candles—the candles held by people gathering at vigils in their own towns and cities throughout October, can become one bright light against this epidemic. The truth is that I’m struggling with how aggressively the problem persists. Maybe, as my stepmom stood beside me, she wasn’t thinking about her abusive first marriage. Maybe she was. She doesn’t ever talk about it, except to tell me, a week after Jax and I moved in last spring, “You can move on, but you’ll never forget. It stays with you forever.”

Then there’s this: Jax had a little incident at daycare last week that involved him plopping down on another kid who was seated. Jax is one of those kids who apologizes if he sees you in pain, like when I hurt my ankle. “Saweee Mommy!” he’ll say over and over, his face registering genuine concern. “Saweee Eli!” he’ll exclaim when he steps on the dog’s tail. “Saweee Pappy!” he’ll call when my Dad stubs his toe in the other room. But a kid he barely knows at daycare? Clearly, the cultivation of empathy begins at home.

“We do not hurt people, ever,” I said with my serious mom face, kneeling down to be eye level with Jax in the Bumble Bee room at daycare. “We have to be nice to everyone—Mimi, Pappy, Eli, and all our friends,” I said, pointing to where the other kids were lying down for nap.

“No hurt people,” Jax said, then hugged me.

“Be nice to everyone. To all the kids,” I said the next day when I dropped him off. “Nice,” he echoed.

These are the things I want to stay with him forever, not some distant memory of violence on the other side of his bedroom door.

Click here for more info on Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1­-800-799-7233–share it if you have to. Consider donating to your local DV shelter (trust me, they need the funds). Believe people when they say someone is hurting them. It takes so much just to say it.

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