Cambridge police are hosting a ‘Support for Survivors’ event for domestic violence awareness month

“Domestic violence reaches all walks of life, and we all probably know someone who is experiencing it.”

09/07/2017  CAMBRIDGE, MA    Cambridge Police officers arrest Harvard professors after they locked arms and shut down Massachusetts Avenue next to Harvard University while protesting the removal of DACA by the White House.  (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
–Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

A survivor of domestic violence will share her story on Wednesday in Cambridge with support from the city’s police department, as part of a forum that aims to highlight support services for those experiencing abuse.  

The Cambridge Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit is hosting the event, Support for Survivors, at the Cambridge Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. It will begin with a presentation from a woman speaking about her own experience with domestic violence, and that will be followed by an “interactive session” where attendees broken into small groups will get a chance to hear from community resources, including the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Transition House.

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Alyssa Donovan, a victim advocate at the police department, said the idea for the event came after Commissioner Branville Bard Jr. asked the domestic violence unit over the summer to think of ways they could be a “positive presence” during the awareness month.

It’s the first time the department has hosted such an event, but Donovan said she thinks it is the start of many.

“We came up with this idea to have a survivor speaker for the first portion of the event, who will share her story about how it’s hard to get help and maybe ask for help, but that there is so much help available and to not be afraid to ask for help when you’re ready,” she said. “Then the second portion of the event we will have sort of an interactive session where we have connected with 12 service providers that assist people who have experienced domestic violence in Cambridge.”  

By having the survivor speaker share her own story, Donovan said others might feel less isolated, alone, or ashamed of what is going on in their life.

“We’re encouraging that person to come forward and get help,” she said. “Getting help doesn’t always mean going to the police. It might be that you work with a community provider for years and years and years and you never come across a police department desk and that’s OK, too. There are ways to still get help and feel good and healthy, and recognizing that you need that in your relationship and that you deserve to be respected. I hope that’s what people will take away from this event.”

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The aim is to reach not only people who are experiencing domestic violence, but also friends and family members who may have a loved one who is in an abusive situation.

“We’re hoping that we can share information that will encourage people to consider getting help,” Donovan said. “Or even just information to help someone out. Domestic violence reaches all walks of life, and we all probably know someone who is experiencing it.”

Cambridge police responds to about 1,000 reports of domestic crimes each year. According to the department, that number accounts for just over 10 percent of all reported crimes in the city.

“I’m here to give you as much information as possible about what is available to you so that you can make some informed decisions about what’s right for your life,” Donovan said of her position as a victim advocate and what she wants those experiencing domestic abuse to know. “Just because something is right for one person doesn’t mean it’s right for another, so trying to encourage people to do what’s right for them and letting them know that I would support them in whatever decisions they make. Because ultimately at the end of the day, the decisions are going to affect their life.”

In addition to Donovan, the department’s domestic violence unit includes two detectives with special training for responding to such reports and another part-time victim advocate.

The entire unit will be in attendance at the event, she said.

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“Information is power, and, a lot of these survivors, that’s what they’ve lost in their relationships,” Donovan said of the event. “They’ve lost their voice, they’ve maybe lost their power, and giving them a little bit of information is already giving power back to them. So giving them the power to make choices is already a step in the right direction.”