The Business and Professional Women’s Club organized its annual Silent Witness March to remember victims of domestic violence on Saturday.
The event, which was happening for the 14th time, started with participants walking silently from the Government Administration Building to Celebration Park in George Town and was followed by several addresses, including two from former victims of domestic violence and bullying.
Velma Powery-Hewitt, a former president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, welcomed the participants, thanked them for their support, and reminded them that victims come from every stratum of society.
“Domestic violence and bullying know no boundaries,” she said. “Neither do they know creed or class or economic standing.”
Minister of Gender Affairs Tara Rivers said that the occasion wasn’t one of celebration, but a sad one to honor victims of domestic violence “and, in particular, to remember those who have been murdered at the hands of a current or former partner.”
Ms. Rivers noted that the theme chosen for this year’s march was “peace begins at home.”
“A home should be a safe place, but far too often our homes are where violence is first experienced, where children witness the dysfunctional relationships of their parents or where they are themselves abused,” she said. “In turn, these children learn through their experiences what they think relationships should be and how they are to treat the people that they love.”
Most often, domestic violence occurs behind closed doors or, in the case with bullying, on the private screens of computers and smart phones, Ms. Rivers said.
“However, from time to time, it spills into public spaces and forces us to confront the reality that our Islands are not as peaceful as we like to believe; that relationships that appear to be happy and loving may have a dark side; and that sometimes we do not know that a victim is hurting until it is too late, until a ambulance or a hearse is called.”
Two past victims, one of domestic violence and one of bullying, spoke to the crowd.
Paula Stonoga, who moved to Cayman from Brazil, said she was married for 25 years and was the victim of domestic violence, which started out as verbal abuse about 10 years ago. She said her son watched the abuse and once said to her that she should remain quiet and take the abuse in order to keep the peace in the house.
“I woke up that day,” she said. She reached out to the Women’s Resource Centre for help.
Eventually, the verbal abuse turned physical and Ms. Stonoga surmised that her spouse wanted to get a reaction from her. “I did react,” she said. “I reacted the best way; I called 911.”
Ms. Stonoga said she lived with the Crisis Centre for four months, after which she got her own apartment. She said the transition was not easy, that her spouse had provided everything for her previously and she lived a good lifestyle, and now she works as a pastry chef and pays her own bills. But she feels that her son – who she calls her inspiration – will benefit from her decision to leave her abusive marriage.
“My son will have better relationships,” she said.
A past victim of bullying, Ocean van der Bol said she kept the fact that she was being bullying to herself. “I never told anyone,” she said. “Big mistake; one of the worst things a victim can do is hide it.”
Eventually, she sought help and was able to turn the negative thoughts she was feeling into feelings of positive self-worth.
In her closing remarks, Mrs. Powery-Hewitt challenged the march participants to make a determined effort to no longer remain silent. “There are many who are waiting on our voice to be their voice, to care, to reach out, to be the change we want to see,” she said. “And so whilst there is much to be done, if each one lifts one, before long we will see the change.”