NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – With her head covered in a veil of lace, and gowned all in white, she was dressed for what is supposed to be the happiest day of a woman’s life. One look at the bruises on her face, however, quickly rewrote any narratives of happily ever after.
Fortunately, Kalisse Horne, 19, of New Brunswick, is not one of the countless women for whom domestic violence begins after marriage. But she’s helping to call attention to those who are in that situation with her wedding trousseau and temporary bruises.
“I’m glad that I’m doing something,” she said. “It’s actually heartbreaking. When I looked at myself after they did the makeup, it was like, ‘Wow. People really go through this.’”
Joined by about 150 people, Horne was raising awareness about the issue of domestic violence Sunday afternoon at the New Brunswick Domestic Violence Awareness Coalition’s annual March & Rally Against Domestic Violence.
Mustering at 222 Livingston Avenue, at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, many of the marchers wore coalition t-shirts and a number carried signs with alarming statistics.
7.5 million women have been raped by a partner, one read, while another said an estimated 1,500 women are killed each year by someone they are intimate with.
Three bright red silhouettes stood silently nearby, bearing witness to the stories of a trio of domestic violence victims on heart-shaped placards.
“I see domestic violence everywhere … at school, out on the streets. Lots of people say it’s no big deal and they don’t like to speak up.” - Iliana Santiago, 17, of New Brunswick
Standing against the blustery wind, people clustered in groups, with some visiting the information and activity booths after registering, as they waited for the march to begin.
Iliana Santiago, 17, of New Brunswick, said that she participated in the event her freshman year of high school and she felt it was important to come out to support it again.
“I see domestic violence everywhere … at school, out on the streets,” she said. “Lots of people say it’s no big deal and they don’t like to speak up.”
Santiago also said that the cause hits close to home, as both she and her mother, who attended the event with her, know victims of domestic violence personally.
According to city Councilwoman Rebecca Escobar, there has not been a significant decline in reported domestic violence incidents since the rally and march began more than a decade ago.
“It continues,” she said. “Throughout the nation, it still continues. It would be my wish that we don't have to do this (rally and march). That it disappears. But it's something that we still have to tackle. The numbers are there.”
In the years since the event began, Escobar said that the number of male domestic violence victims coming forward has increased, although the number is significantly less than female victims.
Director for Community Health at RWJBarnabas New Brunswick Mariam Merced said that it was a local incident of domestic violence that ended fatally 15 years ago that led to the creation of the coalition.
“The hospital, together with the community, had an incident of a woman who was killed by her husband after she had volunteered at a community health fair,” she said. “She was a well-known person in this community and we decided to take collective action against domestic violence.”
According to Merced, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital is the fiscal agency of the coalition and runs programs that seek to educate and raise awareness about the problem.
“Right now, we are working on a Latina initiative called No Mas – “No More” – violence against Latina women, where we are educating community residents and also (health-care) providers to better address issues of domestic violence within that population,” Merced said. “When you're undocumented, when you don't have a lot of resources and family, when you don't know the language it's even harder to access services. So that's why we're out there, also talking about cultural differences that might prevent them from seeking help.”
In addition to the toll domestic violence takes on victims, its effects can be more far-reaching than one might think, according to Program Coordinator for Domestic Violence Education and Awareness at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Elaine Hewins.
“It has a tremendous ripple effect on children and the community,” she said. “So our message is that it has no place in our community.”
Sponsored by the coalition, a variety of governmental, faith-based, community health, social services and Rutgers University organizations contributed to the rally and march.
The event was partially funded by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, RWJBarnabas Health, No Mas and Verizon, according to the coalition.
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