Domestic violence and sexual assaults are often crimes that happen behind closed doors - crimes that people are uncomfortable talking about in public. That doesn't mean they don't exist in our community.
The Marquette Women's Center, marking its 40th year of operation, is in a good position to monitor the scope of the problem. The organization provides safe emergency shelter, counseling, and support services to thousands year round through its Harbor House domestic violence shelter.
It's the only emergency shelter in Marquette and Alger Counties for women and children fleeing abusive homes. The problems it confronts are daunting.
During the last fiscal year, the Harbor House and Women's Center staff and volunteers helped 2,904 people escape domestic or sexual violence, provided 4,715 shelter nights and processed 5,667 crisis calls.
Recognizing the problem is the first step to working toward solutions. It's fitting then, that the community sets aside some time to talk about sexual assault and domestic violence, to examine its causes and talk about solutions. That's why local groups have declared April as Sexual and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Marking the month is the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event at 6 tonight at Northern Michigan University's Bottum University Center. The Marquette Women's Center, NMU Public Safety and a number of other campus groups are sponsoring the 10th annual event.
The walk kicks off at the University Center in the Great Lakes Rooms. Men are encouraged to attend to express male awareness of sexual assault and domestic abuse and support for victims of violence - by walking in women's high heels. Free foot massages will be available after the walk.
The university community isn't alone in trying to raise awareness. Throughout the month, local law enforcement organizations will participate in the annual Teal Ribbon Event, where ribbons symbolizing the courage of domestic and sexual violence victims, survivors and their children are displayed. The ribbons are placed on patrol cars in recognition of law enforcement's role in sexual violence prevention.
We encourage people to participate in these events, to think about the problem and to reach out to anyone who is suffering. We hope raising awareness about sexual and domestic violence makes it easier for victims to come forward to get help - and give others the courage to help friends or loved ones who are in trouble.