The southwest corner of Victoria Park in London, Ont., is shining bright for the London Abused Women’s Centre’s 12th annual Shine the Light campaign on Monday night.
In support of the annual campaign, a tree at the southwest corner of Victoria Park will be lit purple for the month of November.
The tree stands as a symbol of hope and a visual sign to women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence. In front of the tree were cutouts of 15 women and girls from the London community who have been killed by gender-based violence.
“We have seen an increase in service demand for years and when the month of November comes around, we are increasing awareness the number of women reaching out for services tends to increase and that number tends to not go down,” said Jennifer Dunn, executive director of LAWC.
“What we are seeing in the community is not going away, so we need to continue having campaigns like this to be able to talk about it and raise awareness.”
The purpose of the campaign is to shift the blame from women who feel it’s their fault to the perpetrators of the abuse, Dunn said.
Over the last year, LAWC has reported a 45-per cent increase in women accessing their urgent supports.
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Throughout the month of November, people are encouraged to wear purple and to put purple lights outside of their homes or businesses to show women and girls who are abused that they are not alone.
Dunn noted a number of buildings throughout London have already added purple lights to support the campaign, and that a lot of their purple merchandise had already been sold.
“The message is they are not alone and the community stands with them,” she said.
Speaking at the event, London Police Chief Steve Williams noted that they have already responded to 6000 incidents of domestic violence.
“That is 6000 to many but we know the vast majority of domestic violence incidents are not reported,” Williams said.
“The priority of our police service is to stand with LAWC against men who abuse, exploit and assault women and girls for financial purposes, for sexual purposes, or for their own gain.”
“We will come here every year until we no longer have to,” Williams said.
One of two honourees of this year’s Shine the Light campaign is Rebecca Amendola.
Amendola spoke at the tree lighting about being targeted and sexually abused by a pedophile when she was 14 years old and then later taking her rapist to court.
“Though all cases are unique, I am a statistic. I have several qualities that contribute to someone being more likely to experience abuse,” Amendola said Monday night.
“I am a woman who I grew up in poverty with a dysfunctional home where I faced neglect, with multiple unstable father figures, with parents with minimal education. I was also molested before the age of six which made me the perfect target for a child predator during my adolescence, and ultimately resulting in six years of severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during that time.”
She was sexually abused for six years as a teen and later took her abuser to court and won, but notes the process was anything but easy.
She credits having a compassionate and understanding police officer and crown prosecutor who supported her but said that is not the case for many victims who come forward.
Amendola is advocating for changes in the way the legal system handles victims and more supports need to be put in place, including access to free counselling for survivors, victims, and perpetrators.
“Please keep in mind that abuse can happen in any setting, rich or poor, a stable family or not, so don’t let someone’s seemingly good circumstances allow you to ignore signs of abuse,” Amendola said.
She is now studying social work in the hopes her story can help others in similar situations.
Nov. 15 is the annual day to wear purple in support of the campaign and Dunn said people are encouraged to share their pictures and videos in support of the camping to start a conversation about the abuse of women and girls.
Those wanting to find out more about supporting the LAWC can find all of the information on the LAWC website.
If you or someone you know have experienced sexual or gender-based violence contact LAWC at 519-432-2204 or the Abused Women’s Helpline at 519-642-3000.