They used to stand outside the Pioneers Museum every year.
Solemn red cutouts shaped like human beings, each with a sign hung around their neck telling a story. Each one representing a person lost to domestic violence.
TESSA, the area’s leading nonprofit helping victims of domestic violence, doesn’t put its “Silent Witnesses” outside the museum anymore, though they still make appearances at events from time to time. TESSA, which offers a “confidential Safehouse, Victim Advocacy, Counseling and Children’s Programs, a 24/7 SafeLine, and Community Outreach and Education,” is trying to focus less on these tragic stories, Program Director Angie Hackett-Larson says, and more on the abusers. After all, it’s their behavior, not the behavior of the people they hurt and kill, that’s the problem.
Still, there is something cutting about those two-dimensional, red silhouettes, robbed of the characteristics that made them human when they were alive. They are reminders of the terrible toll of domestic violence. Here are two of their stories, shared with us by TESSA.
Silent Witness: Janice Nam, 28
Killed: May 30, 2016
Janice and her boyfriend dated for two years before she told him to move out in 2014. She filed multiple protection orders against her ex, related to domestic violence incidents. He was convicted of stalking her after she broke things off, and court records show she feared for her life after he shouted he had a gun and knew how to use it. Her ex-boyfriend was suspected of breaking into her home many times and stealing her property. Janice was shot to death about five months after her ex-boyfriend cut off his ankle monitor and disappeared.
Silent Witnesses: Lolita Raghunandan, 32; Akash Raghunandan, 11; Rene Raghunandan, 5
Killed: September 15, 2003
Less than a week before he murdered her, Lolita’s husband was arrested for domestic violence after the couple’s eldest child notified 911 during the abuse. Although a restraining order was in place upon his release from jail, Lolita’s husband returned to the family home, shot the couple’s two sons, aged 11 and 5, killed Lolita, then turned the weapon on himself.
He left a suicide note.
Why did she stay?
According to TESSA, the region’s leading nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence, victims of an abuser are often in the most danger when they decide to leave their partner. That’s because the abuser no longer feels power and control in the relationship.
The public often wonders why a victim would not leave an abuser. TESSA offers the following reasons (just a sample) of why a victim might choose to stay:
• Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children.
• Lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts or assets.
• Lack of having somewhere to go (e.g., no friends or family to help, no money for hotel, shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay).
• Fear that homelessness may be the only option if they leave.
• Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship.
— Information provided by TESSA