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Silent Witness Initiative in Cabell

If you’ve been to Cabell Library at any point this week, you’ve probably noticed the red cardboard cutouts standing at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor. The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and these cutouts are part of the Silent Witness Initiative, representing the victims of domestic and intimate partner violence.

Criminology theory professor at VCU, Amy Cook, and her students take part in the campaign in October to help bring attention to the issue of domestic abuse and help educate VCU students.

“We’re helping to build awareness on domestic violence in general and to help people realize that physical abuse isn’t the only type of abuse that comes along with domestic violence,” student Timothy Lenard said.

The Silent Witness Initiative began in Minnesota in 1990 and has since spread to become internationally recognized. The group of women that started the initiative wanted to use an artistic means of remembering victims of domestic violence by creating the cardboard cutouts with shields that contain the victims’ names, ages and stories. 

The cutouts were initially used to remember victims that were specifically women, but now include men and children as well.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of domestic violence murders by the year 2020,” Nicole Johnson said.

In Virginia, the Silent Witnesses are housed by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

“The victims in the library aren’t affiliated with VCU, but they are all local victims,” Victoria Ammon said.

The victims that can be seen in Cabell are from right here in Richmond, as well as surrounding Richmond areas such as Chesterfield.

“The witnesses are a powerful and moving display that highlights the realities of the violence that millions of Americans, including children, face,” Cook said.

Cook looks forward to Domestic Violence Awareness Month because it is personal for her. She shares her domestic violence work experiences with her students and uses this campaign as a way to bring her teaching of the subject to the next level.

“By bringing the witnesses on campus, students can actually experience the emotional aspects of seeing the consequences of IPV (intimate partner violence),” she said. “Nothing is as powerful as seeing these life-sized silhouettes because of the fact that they represent the death of a real person.”

Cook is moved by her students that are brave enough to share their personal experiences with domestic and IPV.

“They are true survivors,” she said. “I bring The Silent Witnesses to campus as much for them as I do to honor those murdered.”

Her students can be seen sitting at a table directly next to the cutouts ready to answer questions and educate the VCU community.

“It gave me a different perspective as a criminal justice major,” said Nicole Johnson. “We watched a movie in class about domestic violence in general and how it was handled in the past and how it’s handled now and the importance of bringing about awareness for an issue that’s not publicly known.”

                                                                                                 From left to right: Timothy Lenard (18), Nicole Johnson (18), Victoria Ammon (18)

Cook continues to participate in the Silent Witnesses Initiative because she feels it really has an impact on her students.

“I’ve had students who have been so inspired by the initiative as well as other awareness campaigns that they have decided to intern and work in victim services,” Cook said. “That’s how I know it’s made real impact.”

If you find yourself in Cabell this week, take a moment to look at the cutouts and talk to Professor Cook’s students to learn more about an important issue and an initiative that aims to stop it. 

Pictures by: Hailey McQuiller 

Katie is a freshman at VCU studying mass communications with a concentration in journalism. She loves attending concerts, James Franco's instagram selfies, quoting Will Ferrell movies, and her two dogs Laila and Frazier. You can follow her on twitter and instagram @katiebashista. 
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