By James Niedzinski
---- — Domestic abuse is not a new problem, nor is it one unique to Gloucester or Cape Ann.
But activists rallied around how to fight it Tuesday during the city’s 13th annual proclamation of a domestic violence-free zone and the launching of new “safe sites” throughout the city.
“Gloucester is not a city that will look the other way,” said Nicki Richon Schoel, one of the chairs of the Gloucester Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse.
The coalition consists of advocates with the Salem-based HAWC — an acronym for Healing Abuse, Working for Change — as well as the Gloucester police and firefighters, the Essex District Attorney’s office, and members with the YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center.
In her annual proclamation, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the Gloucester office of HAWC was contacted 2,911 times through it’s hotline in the past two years.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, read a proclamation from Gov. Deval Patrick and noted that domestic violence or abuse knows no race, gender, religion, or economic status; it can take many shapes such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
“I’m honored to deliver this today to a community that has show that it is responsive, that it is aware and proactive,” Tarr said.
The Safe Sites program is designed create a safe, temporary public place for someone experiencing street harassment or other forms of abuse.
Sandra Monteiro, the new coordinator of the Gloucester HAWC office, said the group is dedicated to helping everyone who suffers from domestic abuse, they offer a number of different programs in a number of different areas in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Shaina Doberman of the YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center said the group accompanies survivors to court, and can help them prepare for the criminal just process and can help in providing medical care and support.
“Perhaps our most important resource is our hotline, where callers can get connected with volunteers and trained staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.
“Abuse is a choice, these behaviors don’t happen by accident, they are deliberate behavior that someone takes to gain power and control over someone else,” she said.
To date, Safe Sites — marked by a blue ribbon insignia in store windows — are in 18 businesses and institutions throughout the city.
They include: 7-Eleven, The Book Store, Cafe Sicilia, The Cave, Deborah Coull Salon, The Dress Code, Larsen’s Shoe Store, The Lone Gull, Mark Adrian Shoes, Menage Gallery, The Open Door, Pathways for Children, Salon 1, Senior Care, Sovereign Bank, Tiny Island Beach Glass, Toodeloos! and The Weathervane.
Sunny Robinson, who co-chairs the coalition, said it would be marvelous if every business could partake in Safe Sites, but started with 18.
“There was not one business who said ‘no,’ everyone said ‘yes,’” she said of the businesses approached.
Robinson also said that 1 in 10 teenagers have perpetrated or experience forced sex.
“We have a serious problem to deal with, with our youth,” she said; adding children in households where domestic abuse takes place also face serious dangers.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.