Andrea Harrington, Janis Broderick and Jason Wood: Change-makers on violence, abuse

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PITTSFIELD and NORTH ADAMS— We can and will end sexual and domestic violence. We will change the culture of silence and shame to one where we believe victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

For generations, domestic and sexual violence has been accepted as private matters and explained away — that's between them, he was sorry, she made him angry, boys will be boys, he or she was drunk.

We reject the notion that violence inside a household stays inside the household. We reject the idea that somehow a domestic disturbance is less of a crime than a brutal assault. We reject the belief that women can be complicit in their own rapes.

We will change the misogynistic beliefs that there will always be relationship violence and there will always be rape.

The Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force was founded and operates based on the bold premise that we can end domestic and sexual violence in our community. The task force is made up of elected leaders, law enforcement, community activists, educators, and health care professionals.

We are change-makers who share the common belief that together we can turn around what has reached a crisis point.

We will show people how to notice the signs of domestic abuse and how to safely step in and do something. We will interrupt the cycles of violence and work to keep people safe through proven best practices for intervention.

We have to. The number of restraining orders in Berkshire County is on the rise, up 15 percent since 2015. Stockbridge, Adams, Pittsfield, and North Adams rank first, third, fifth, and sixth in 2017 among the highest rate of rape by population.

For every survivor of rape or domestic violence who comes forward, so many more are afraid or ashamed to seek help. That can be deadly, as we've too often seen. For far too many in our community, there is no place as dangerous as home.

Ten Berkshire women and children were murdered through partner violence in the last five years. They had families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who loved and cared for them. They came from all different backgrounds, from throughout the county.

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No group has advocated more fiercely for victims and survivors than the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

Elizabeth Freeman Center provides a 24/7 hotline for victims to get support. Counselors are on duty at all hours to respond to hospitals and police stations following an attack and to help people to a safe place. It provides shelter, food, transportation, safe phones. The organization will take care of pets. It helps victims create safety plans. It provides housing and financial advocacy and helps put protections in place so victims can still go to school or work. They have court advocates on staff to help with restraining orders and supervised visits. Elizabeth Freeman Center has counselors specifically trained to work with immigrants and LGBTQ survivors and survivors with disabilities

Each year, more than 2,000 adults and children in Berkshire County use these free and confidential services.

On Sept. 19, we ask that everyone joins us at the ninth annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event in Pittsfield. Hundreds of our neighbors and friends will march down North Street, some wearing heels and decorated shoes, during Third Thursday to help bring the issue out of the shadows. Elizabeth Freeman Center relies on fundraising from this event to provide vital services to victims and survivors.

We hope to continue the conversation beyond that one day too. We want everybody to become more aware of the complexities of the issue.

Rachel Louise Snyder recently released a powerful book, "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us," delving deep into the issue. We ask the community to join us in reading and discussing it throughout October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Bookstore in Lenox and the Bookloft in Great Barrington will both be donating a percentage of the profits from the sales to Elizabeth Freeman Center.

We are starting to build a culture of interruption where the abusers must change or suffer the consequences, not the victims.

We believe we can put a stop to sexual and domestic violence by making it abundantly clear to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their actions, by truly supporting survivors, and by teaching our children to respect themselves and others.

We can and will end sexual and domestic violence.

Andrea Harrington is Berkshire district attorney, Janis Broderick is Elizabeth Freeman Center executive director and Jason Wood is North Adams police chief.


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