From Victims To Healers
small group of artists and writers in Minnesota first developed the idea
of the red life-sized figures we now call Silent Witnesses in the summer
of 1990, we never imagined that what we were birthing would some day
become an international initiative. The project simply grew out of our
anger, our powerless feelings and our compassion for the women whose lives
had been lost.
The Silent Witnesses started to take on a
life of their own. We came to experience the figures reverentially.
The murdered women had become real to us, their spirits touching ours.
When we carried them from trucks to exhibit spaces, we felt we were
carrying their stories. When we "hugged" them in order to fit them into
their stands, we were reminded of how much love each of them needed. They
had come alive for us. But they were all dead. And that is the reason for
The Silent Witnesses took us on a journey
One incredible thing we learned that had
not been clear at the inception of the project was how healing these
Silent Witness figures would be for so many of the survivors and the
families of the victims. Nor were we aware of how powerful these figures
would be for public officials.
In one of many such comments, a survivor:
Your Silent Witness creation has had a great effect on opening me
to surrendering my anonymity as a formerly battered woman...it was the
springboard, the catalyst for my going public with my own truth.
And the mother of one of the Silent Witnesses
You may remember me. My 15
year-old daughter was murdered by her 17 year-old boyfriend while
she and my family slept. She is now part of the Silent Witness
silhouettes here in my city and I am very grateful for this program.
I have had the opportunity to speak to kids from the local high
schools as well as other community groups. I never thought I
could do this but strength has come to me from my daughtersı
spirit, to try to make hers the last silhouette needed.
Many public officials have been involved with
Silent Witness. They include 20 Attorneys General and several Governors.
Three especially strong supporters are Minnesota's former Attorney
General Hubert Humphrey, Senator Paul Wellstone, and his wife, Sheila
Wellstone. Senator Wellstone describes the power of the Witnesses at
the national march when he said I want you to know that these Silent
Witnesses in their own way speak more loudly and with more eloquence and
with more effect than any of the rest of us.
In the movement that the Silent Witness originators entered in 1990,
most of the people involved were victims of domestic abuse
themselves. Our major motivation was to see that no other women had the
same experiences we had, or to see that if they did, they would be able to
leave the relationships.
The mentality of our initiative began to
change when we realized that we didnıt get very far by staying victims.
We needed to get beyond our anger. We began to see ourselves in a
different way and we began to change internally. We started looking
for programs that offered solutions and hope. We saw people move beyond a
victim role to a survivor role and from there to a victor role by getting
involved in hopeful, exciting, positive, results-oriented events and
The word healing entered our initiative when
we began to consider what it would mean to actually solve the domestic
violence problem. Putting all the perpetrators in jail isnıt enough,
because when they get out they batter again. Building a fence down the
middle of the country with men on one side and women on the other wouldnıt
work, because men and women still want to be together.
So we started using the word healing. It
changed the mission of our initiative and it changed us forever. No longer
were we victims or survivors or even victors. We had to think of ourselves
as healers if we were ever going to solve this problem. Healers of
ourselves, of women, of men, of children, of organizations,
of churches, of synagogues, of courts--healers everywhere. We became
passionate about healing domestic violence. And our passion generated
Passion in Action
As a result of passionate people, our
domestic violence initiative was transformed. Silent Witness is now filled
with passionate people for whom healing is the goal. There are so many
acts of good will within our initiative that we call our participants
And what do angels with passion look like in
action? At one meeting we found out that one stateıs coordinator didnıt
have the funds to create an exhibit using our figures. By the end of that
meeting, several other states had donated one or two of their figures to
her and she had her whole exhibit.
Another woman found out about a successful
and healing treatment model for perpetrators. It affected her so strongly
she quit her job to dedicate her life to this work, without knowing
initially where her income would come from.
Our passionate approach has attracted the
interest of many high school and college students. One of our thrills was
when one of our youngest collaborators, a 12 year-old girl, spoke out
about her experience at the March to End the Silence in Washington
was time to march. We picked up our witness figures and set off. The
figure seemed very heavy in my arms. As we went farther and neared
the end, my witness (Angel had been her name) seemed lighter than
when Iıd left, as though sheıd let out her deepest, most inner secret.
I personally can tell you that this was a very important and inspiring
trip and I know that it will influence my life in the future. I will
not allow others to control my life to the point of such despair. In
addition, I will not be abusive of others.
Our healing stance encouraged us to welcome men into our initiative and to
believe that batterers could and would change. At our March in Washington
a man who had been abusive in his marriage and who was now, with his wife,
one of our state coordinators, spoke poignantly on this issue of healing.
I speak from
experience. I was an abusive husband. Iım not proud of that fact. Iım
merely here to tell you what I know to be true. I may not be the man
that I could be, but I thank God every day Iım not the man I used
to be. And I know that if I continue on my road to recovery someday,
working with the Silent Witnesses I can become the man I should be.
With passion, compassion replaces anger.
Generosity replaces competition. The sharing of ideas and resources
replaces turf battles. Hope replaces despair. And miracles occur.
These examples describe our passion. What
about our tangible results? First and foremost, people's lives are being
transformed by their involvement in the initiative. But more than that,
once we focused on healing, the types of successful programs we discovered
were nothing short of miraculous: A court watch and a community criminal
justice program that bring dignity to the process and more responsibility
to the system; a treatment model for perpetrators and survivors that is
highly successful in healing them; and prevention programs that change
adolescent and adult behavior. Nine of these results programs are outlined
on this website.
All over the country, the domestic homicide
rates for women are dropping, as this site testifies. After 20 years of
little change, there was a drop of more than 400 (more than 25%) in four
years. Are these all due to our efforts? Obviously not. But the momentum
is shifting--in us and in the country.
When we work to heal and to restore, our
motivation comes from a deeper place within us. That demands of us more
reflection, courage, persistence and passion. Having seen the
effects of a healing stance, we know of its power and we will keep working
to ensure that we move steadily towards our goal. Will you join us?
Janet O. Hagberg