By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
There was no greater reminder about the goals of the third annual Shine the Light campaign than the experiences of several of the passionate — and compassionate — women who came out to support it.
Shine the Light on Women Abuse, the largest public awareness campaign of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC), kicked off in Victoria Park, on Thursday (Nov. 1) with a lighting of the lights ceremony at one of the Victoria Park evergreen trees at the Clarence Avenue and Dufferin Street.
Megan Walker, LAWC executive director, led off the launch by remembering Ashley and Stephanie Daubs, two young girls who were killed by their father before he could face justice on the abuse he committed against their mother. Walker went on to say Shine the Light plays a vital role in reaching women who might not otherwise know where to turn.
“So many women feel shame and blame themselves for the violence they endure. That blame does not belong to women. We are saying the shame and blame belongs to those abusers who exercise power and control and choose to abuse women,” Walker said. “We support abused women, we wrap our arms around them and we want them to get the help they need. They are not going through this alone.”
That point was brought home through the experiences of not only survivors of violence, but also those who were there to extend them a much-needed helping hand.
Eva Kratochvil and member Gabriela Cameto, co-chairs of the survivor’s advisory committee of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), a provincial coalition founded by women’s shelter advocates, attended the launch to announce the light being lit in London is beginning to spread out across the province.
Kratochvil and Cameto announced that seven Ontario communities — Windsor, Toronto, Woodstock, Amherstburg, Sault Ste Maria, Oshawa and Marathon — have stepped up with their own Share the Light campaigns.
But for Kratochvil, Shine the Light is more than just an awareness campaign. After all, she once needed the support of a friend to find her way out of violence, turning to a university schoolmate who would one day become the province’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.
“I found myself faced with the reality of being a victim of women abuse. I was torn as to where to go and what to do. It was with the help of an amazing friend, Deb Matthews, who opened her door and allowed me in,” Kratochvil said. “She allowed her home to be my shelter. Long before she became Minister of Health, she was taking care of the health of her friends and her community.”
Matthews, who was on-hand to press the button that switched on the purple tree lights, said Shine the Light means a great deal to her, both as a woman, and as the Minister of Health.
Matthews said there are too many women who “suffer in silence, who are ashamed to tell anyone what is going on.” The message of Shine the Light, Matthews said, is that women aren’t alone.
“I don’t think I did anything unusual. I think anybody would be there for a friend if they were in trouble,” Matthews said. “I don’t think it always feels like that when you are the one in trouble. But I promise you, people will be there for you. Don’t hold it inside.”
As part of campaign, city hall will be lit up in purple, joining the Shine the Light tree as a symbol of the fight against the abuse of women and children. It is a symbol Matthews said speaks loud and clear.
“Those lights say to me we are taking this issue, women abuse, out of the shadows. We are shining a light on it,” Matthews said. “It exists, it is a problem, don’t keep it hidden. If you need help, ask for it, there are lots of people who want to be there for you.”
Jaclyn Miles, Miss Canada 2012, herself a survivor of extensive bullying as a child and domestic and sexual abuse as a young woman, was another who came out to the launch to show her support for the campaign.
“This warms my heart. I was standing here a little emotional because it is so amazing when a group of people come together to support this cause and take the blame away from victims,” Miles said. “It really means more to a victim than anyone will ever know. Programs like this; community initiatives like this are what is going to make a difference in the lives of many women.”
Understandably, Walker and Miles are of one mind on that point.
“It is so important for this message to spread. The issue of violence against women is not isolated to London, Ont. It impacts communities across Canada, across the world,” Walker said. “The beneficiary of all this will be women who are being abused.”
Walker said the Shine the Light campaign includes a dozen events throughout the community, including Wear Purple Day on Nov. 15. For more information about Shine the Light, visit www.lawc.on.ca/shinethelight.
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