This week’s blog post was supposed to be a preview of our upcoming Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival. We were going to talk about leaves changing, neighbors coming together on a Saturday, music playing, hot dogs on the grill, and a community growing stronger and safer.
Then the murder of Jennifer Martel sent shock waves through our office and our city as we all asked ourselves what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Last night we gathered with Jennifer’s friends and neighbors in a candlelight vigil to remember her life, and were moved by their commitment to honor her memory by working for change.
As we said in our statement, it’s understandable to feel hopeless and powerless at a time like this. It’s also understandable to look for someone to blame, or a quick fix to the system that will prevent it from happening again. While the call for system improvement is important, many victims of domestic violence never walk into a court room or interact with law enforcement. A person who is being hurt or controlled in their relationship is much more likely to turn to a trusted friend or family member first.
So what can we do, as a community, and as those friends and family members, to move forward and learn from a tragedy like this? Here are some suggestions:
1. Know the risk factors for domestic violence homicide. These risk factors include things like access to weapons, past threats or attempts at suicide, controlling a victim’s daily activities, and attempted strangulation.
2. Learn what to do or say to help a friend who might be experiencing abuse. We’ve blogged on this topic before, and in the coming weeks we hope to hold a training here in Waltham where you can learn information and practice techniques to start a conversation or intervene if you become aware of an abusive relationship.
4. Commit to having conversations about domestic violence. When we talk about domestic violence at our kitchen tables, in local coffee shops, in our workplace, in our faith communities, and elsewhere we bring it out of the shadows and remove the stigma. We let victims know they’re not alone. We start to change those cultural norms that have allowed domestic violence to continue and escalate for far too long.
5. Get involved with your local domestic violence agency. At REACH, we have opportunities that include answering our hotline, providing childcare for support groups, accompanying people to court, or helping around the office. You can host a gathering in your home and we will come talk to you and your friends about promoting healthy relationships among children and teens.
For our part, we will keep doing what we’re doing, and keep asking how we can do it better. To that end, on October 5th, on the lawn of the Waltham Library as the leaves change, neighbors will come together on a Saturday, music will play, hot dogs will be on the grill, and the Waltham community will grow stronger and safer. We hope you can join us.