By Brian Gioiele on October 4, 2017

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Dozens stood solemnly on the town green Tuesday evening as Ann, withholding her last name to protect her safety, described in detail the years of psychological abuse at the hands of her now ex-husband.

Unable to speak on the phone, go shopping on her own, visit family, or even leave footprints on her snow-covered driveway or walkway for fear the horrendous emotional abuse and denigration would turn to physical assault, Ann felt trapped, so much so that thoughts of suicide even crept into her mind.

She finally escaped her tormentor, taking her children and leaving, but with no real plan for life on her own. Then she spoke of how that all changed the day she learned of the Center for Family Justice.

“I’m free, I’m a survivor, and I have the Center for Family Justice to thank for that,” said Ann, barely able to contain her emotions as she spoke during Tuesday night’s vigil in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“A new world opened up for me. I now have the strength to make a new life. I am taking back the life I lost to abuse,” added Ann.

Ann’s harrowing tale of transformation from victim to survivor captivated the crowd, which then held high glow sticks as members of the community read the names of the 16 people who lost their lives to domestic violence in Connecticut in 2016.

“These vigils are solemn, but we also intend for them to be incredibly hopeful and inspiring,” said Center for Family Justice President and CEO Debra Greenwood. “We believe that whenever communities come together to share their commitment to ending the cycles of domestic violence and abuse, real and positive change can and does happen.”

First Selectman Steve Vavrek accepts a gift from Center for Family Justice head Debra Greenwood at the vigil Tuesday. — Brian Gioiele photo

“Violence is wrong,” said First Selectman Steve Vavrek. “It has been a pleasure to work with Deb and the Center for Family Justice. People need to know, 24/7, there is someone there to talk to. I have been blessed to help these people. Their work is amazing. We all just need to continue this thought — hands are not for hitting, bullying is bad.”

Greenwood said the vigil is meant to honor those who have been impacted by intimate partner violence, and to raise awareness and inspire hope that the cycle of violence can be broken. The vigil is also a reminder for local residents that domestic violence — which national statistics suggest impacts one out of three women in her lifetime — is a problem in every demographic and community CFJ serves.

But the vigil was also a time to celebrate those individuals and groups in Monroe that have fought to raise awareness of domestic violence in all its forms. Greenwood honored Vavrek and police Chief John Salvatore, both staunch supporters of CFJ’s efforts, with gifts. Vavrek received an enlarged photograph of himself and the chief.

Also honored was Masuk High football team captain Ryan Shaw, who joined fellow football players in creating the White Ribbon Club to help raise awareness of domestic violence. Shaw’s club even raised some $1,000 for CFJ through its Change for Change fund-raiser.

“It’s wonderful to see young people standing up against abuse,” said Greenwood. “We can’t thank you enough for all your hard work.”

Among the performances were choreographed numbers by Studio D, a local dance company, and a beautiful rendition of Clear Blue Morning by the Masuk High School chorus.

Greenwood said the vigils also serve the purpose of allowing victims to know that at CFJ there is a safe place, close to home, where they can receive free and comprehensive services. These services include free counseling and emergency shelter.

“Every year, I hear a story at a vigil from someone in attendance who feels compelled to come forward with their experiences with domestic violence because of the support they feel at our vigils,” said Greenwood. “That tells me how important it us for us to gather together to hold these events.”

CFJ is also holding vigils Thursday, Oct. 5, at the University of Bridgeport Student Center; Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Stratford Town Hall; Wednesday, Oct. 11, at the Easton Community Center gazebo; and Thursday, Oct. 12, at Fairfield’s Sherman Green. The vigils are appropriate for all ages and are open to the public.