Uniting against domestic violence

3 min read

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but chances are you didn’t realize that.

That’s because women who have been battered or sexually assaulted are an underserved community; immigrant victims even more so. A conversation in the Schlesinger Library’s Radcliffe College Room, titled “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: It’s Everybody’s Business,” explored the topic on Monday, Oct. 25.

While 14 percent of Massachusetts residents are immigrants, they make up 26 percent of domestic violence deaths. For many immigrant women, staying alive is a daily struggle.

Sharing case studies, personal anecdotes, and chilling statistics, four leaders from local organizations that provide services around domestic violence discussed the realities and challenges inherent in delivering services to such a disenfranchised group. The leaders included Susan Cayouette, co-director of Emerge, Counseling and Education to Stop Domestic Violence; the Rev. Susan Chorley, director of Renewal House, the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry; Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women in Boston; and Maureen Gallagher, policy director of Jane Doe Inc.

The panel discussion was hosted by Community Works, a cooperative made up of 33 local grassroots organizations devoted to social and economic justice; all the participating speakers are members of this group. Co-founder Fran Froelich stated their mission simply, “We seek not only to alleviate suffering, but also to eliminate the causes for that suffering; to speak up for people who have no voice and help them find their voices.”

The event also marked the opening for research of the Kip Tiernan Papers, initially given to the library in November 2006. Kip Tiernan, BI ’89, founder of Rosie’s Place and the Boston Food Bank and co-founder of Community Works and the Poor People’s United Fund, “has long been a paragon of social justice,” said Marilyn Dunn, executive director of the Schlesinger Library and librarian of the Radcliffe Institute.

Tiernan herself, who at 84 continues to be a tireless advocate for the downtrodden and disenfranchised in Boston and beyond, advised that—when fighting for social and economic justice—it’s important to realize the importance of passion, rage, and faith. But not the type of faith you might think: “I have faith in us,” she said.

Incidentally, the monthlong Community Gifts Through Harvard campaign, which kicks off next week, raises roughly $1 million each year in donations from the University community. Two thirds of that goes to support local nonprofit agencies like Community Works. If you’d like to join the local fight for social and economic justice, please remember Community Works when giving through Harvard.