If you pause a minute to honor the victims lost to domestic violence each year, as many as seven more women will have died by the time you're through.

About 30 community members gathered to remember those victims and the many others - women, children and men - who suffer every year at a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening, an observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Carrying signs declaring, "Light the night; Bring domestic violence out of the dark," and "Stop domestic violence; Call 9-1-1; It IS your business," along with white candles glowing in purple cups, the community members walked to raise awareness of what they said was a prevalent but silent problem.

Many of the people who attended the vigil, which began at the state building with participants following the RiverWalk to a short ceremony at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, were people who worked "in the field," said Pat Burness, executive director of the Clatsop County Women's Resource Center. The event was led by the women's center with support from the county District Attorney's Office Victims Assistance Unit. They were "people who see it every day," Burness said.

Although domestic violence stretches across social and economic lines, many community members are not aware of its prevalence, she said.

"If we're doing our jobs right, the average citizen doesn't have an awareness of what's going on," Burness said. "It's a family secret."

The nonprofit Women's Resource Center saw more than 12,000 people during the past year and responded to an average 41 first-time crisis calls each month from women living in the county.

As many as 4 million American women are seriously assaulted by a husband or boyfriend each year, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The same statistics show that about three women are murdered by their partners every day.

In 2001, 18-year-old Amber Luna-Romero was murdered by her husband in Seaside. She was trying to leave their apartment when he attacked her, stabbing her 20 times in the presence of their two children. Standing next to a wooden silhouette with her name on it, county District Attorney Josh Marquis noted "That's not common." But domestic violence is, he said.

Astoria Police Chief Rob Deu Pree, who spoke in addition to Burness, Marquis and Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross at the ceremony, said the entire community is responsible for stemming the problem.

"Domestic violence is incredibly tragic," Deu Pree said. "We need to make sure people, not just in Astoria but in the entire Clatsop County community, realize domestic violence is bad, we're not going to tolerate it and it's going to stop."

Seaside's chief of police echoed Deu Pree's sentiments. When Gross started in law enforcement 31 years ago, he lacked the tools needed to understand the issue, he said. Now, working on the North Coast, he said the county agencies "all work together as a team to hold the perpetrator accountable, to help the victims and families."

But he said it's the community's responsibility to help identify those victims.

"We can have the best training in the world," Gross said. "If we don't know who's involved or where it's taking place, we can't help anybody."

But Burness said one thing has been overlooked in the 13 years she has worked in the county: victims.

She said her concern was illustrated Monday, when she came to work to find out a victim from the resource center had come back from Alaska. She had been kidnapped by her husband, and she was in the hospital, severely beaten. Her children had been taken into state custody.

"How did this happen?" Burness questioned. "We had restraining orders in place ... We had a safety plan."

She found out that the woman had called her husband, because she missed him. As Burness recited from a poem earlier: "Hope springs eternal, dull and cruel."

"So my focus for the next 13 years is the victim," she said. "To let them know, 'You don't have to do this alone.' With everything in place, now, we have to look at the families."

She said most of the cases in Clatsop County involve families, with or without married parents, and the children witness violence regularly. "There's a bond between the batterer and the victim that needs to be broken to protect the children," she said.

Anne Teaford of Astoria, who participated in the vigil with her husband, noted that children in those situations are more likely to be violent themselves when they grow up and more likely to tolerate violence from a partner. "It's a cycle that repeats itself," Teaford said. "It's everywhere, and it's so hard to get people out of it."

While the court system can help victims to obtain restraining orders and handle divorce and child custody issues, police chiefs and court workers said the best place to start is the Women's Resource Center.

The center operates the county's only crisis hotline and a safe house, and it provides weekly support groups, individual counseling, a daily drop-in center, emergency resources, financial assistance and 24-hour advocacy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. An advocate from the center accompanies law enforcement officers on domestic violence calls, and a recent $20,000 grant awarded to the center will help to fund a position for an advocate for shelter victims.

"Were trying to keep families together," Burness said. "All these partners remove the barriers to someone escaping domestic violence."

Another vigil will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach. For more information, call the Clatsop County Women's Resource Center at 325-3426. For 24-hour help with domestic violence, call the center's crisis line at 325-5735.

Tags