At McDaniel vigil for domestic violence victims and survivors, compassion and healing

About 30 people sat in silence, their faces illuminated by candlelight, as they remembered victims of domestic violence and honored survivors.

Family and Children's Services held its annual domestic violence vigil in the McDaniel Lounge at McDaniel College on Wednesday night. There were about 30 people in attendance, along with members of Family and Children's Services, Rape Crisis Intervention Service and Carroll Hospital.


The Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, spoke to the audience about the power of listening to victims and survivors of domestic violence, before candles were lit and everyone took a moment of silence.

Refreshments were provided by the GFWC Women's Club of Westminster, and the vigil ended with a raffle, with items provided by a range of sponsors.

Kuchma told the audience that one of the most important things they can do as advocates is listen to survivors of domestic victim. For survivors, he continued, they need to know they have the right to tell someone to listen.

It's about who gets to write the next chapter in their lives, he said.

"The person who has been abused has had that pen ripped out her hand so many times," he told the audience.

Kuchma said healing begins when people can reclaim their own authority or agency. Having a person listen can help a survivor find their power again, he added.

"My part today is even people who really want to be helpful can deride people of the ability to control their situation," he said.

Although St. Paul's does not specifically hold activities to promote domestic violence awareness, Kuchma said the church should be involved and should help value people.

"And valuing people means helping them be safe," he said.

Helping to keep domestic violence victims safe is also something that Family and Children's Services works to do.

Olivia Belitsos, a senior at McDaniel, helped the organization with setting up the vigil, including by inviting Carroll Hospital and Rape Crisis Intervention Service and getting people to provide refreshments.

Belitsos, a social work major, started her internship in August with Family and Children's Services. She said she expects to learn much more, but is learning about the legal system and the challenges with domestic violence. She's also studying abusive behaviors and dating violence, she said.

She said people don't always realize domestic abuse can happen in marriages, adding that some people marry their abusers.

Lauren Dougherty, an advocate with Family and Children's Services, said the organization holds the vigil each year to bring awareness to domestic violence, the victims and survivors. There are people who come every year, though there were many new faces this year, she said.


"It's a time for everyone in the community to come together and recognize domestic violence," she said.

Domestic violence doesn't have to be physical abuse. It can also be mental, financial or emotion abuse, she said. And it does happen in Carroll County; from July 1 to Sept. 30, 129 people sought services from the State's Attorney's Office in relation to domestic violence, according to that office.

"I think the one thing people in the county don't understand is how much of it is in the county," Dougherty said.