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During Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, 13 wooden cutout figures stand in front of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County on Route 22 in Churchville as a reminder of the dangers of domestic violence.
During Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, 13 wooden cutout figures stand in front of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County on Route 22 in Churchville as a reminder of the dangers of domestic violence. (Erika Butler)

The wooden cutout figures have stood along Route 22 in Churchville every October for the last 18 years as a reminder of the dangers of domestic violence.

Under the Silent Witness national initiative, 13 cutouts, each representing someone who has been killed by domestic violence, are displayed in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County church building throughout October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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Silent Witness began in 1990 with a group of eight women from the St. Paul/Minneapolis area who decided to address the issue of domestic violence murders in their community, according to church administrator Karen Kurrle.

The women created 26 life-sized red wooden figures, each one bearing the name of a woman whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner or acquaintance. A 27th figure was added to represent the uncounted women whose murders went unsolved or were erroneously ruled accidental. The organizers called the figures the Silent Witnesses.

What started as a small grassroots project soon spread to other states. By 1997, all 50 states had a Silent Witness project of their own and Silent Witness projects have expanded to several other countries. Silent Witness also promotes nine results projects — programs that can be implemented into communities to reduce domestic violence homicides.

The UUFHC Silent Witness initiative originated in September 2001. With a grant from Harford Community College, supplies were purchased to build 10 Silent Witness figures and members of UUFHC came together on two weekends to construct them.

Additional figures have been built to represent victims of domestic violence homicides in Harford County, again thanks to a grant from Harford Community College to fund the supplies needed for the build, Kurrle said. Numerous members from UUFHC volunteered their time to construct new figures.

“As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, this program works to that end to increase community awareness of very real and sobering fact that domestic violence pervades through our local communities, neighborhoods and homes," Kurrle said. "The volumes of space the figures occupy speak of their power and the loss felt by their families and our entire community.”

The mission of Silent Witness is to promote peace, healing and responsibility in adult relationships in order to eliminate domestic murders in the United States.

To learn more about the Silent Witness National Initiative, visit www.silentwitness.net.

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