On Sept. 16, the South Burlington City Council declared October Domestic Awareness Month. Thanks to Lisa Bedinger, the Community Justice Center coordinator, and Police Chief Shawn Burke, we gathered an important group of specialists for two forums designed to educate the public on the issues surrounding intimate partner violence.

The first was held Oct. 10, and the second will be Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Tuttle Middle School cafeteria (supper provided).

We are a community dealing with challenges faced by many throughout the region and state. Intimate partner violence is one of these challenges. In our Sept. 16 resolution, the council declared its wish “to honor the life of Anako ‘Annette’ Lumumba through a legacy of active listening, caring, and giving.” The family has supported our initiative, saying that if Anako’s story might help to save the life of just one person, her death will not have been in vain. Her story exposed cracks in our system, which we need to address.

As a community, we have already begun a number of social service initiatives that promise to create a cultural shift. Because of unmet social service needs, South Burlington has contracted with the Howard Center to provide on-call counselors to our police department through a new Community Outreach program. Community Outreach is designed to serve individually, and therefore more effectively, members of the public who are in contact with our police officers. The city is also working to expand its affordable housing and moving ahead with plans to build a new library/community center and expand recreational programming. We are additionally supporting the creation of a South Burlington Food Shelf.

These services will address some of the needs and work to lessen the impact of our social challenges here; but they do not respond to all of the needs.

Because the most important statistical predictive indicator of domestic violence nationally is exposure to it as a child, and one in 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence each year (whether through physical, psychological or financial control), the council calls on our community to learn more in support of members of the community suffering from domestic violence. Because one in four women — regardless of race, religion, education, profession or socioeconomic status — will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, with the first experience of domestic violence most common between the ages of 18 and 24 (38.6 percent), followed by ages 11-17 (22.4 percent), let us come together to reflect on and organize around possible action steps.

How might we respond as a listening, caring and giving community to individuals who need help? Are there policy reforms in our legal and criminal justice systems that we might pursue? What other possible initiatives might we take?

To begin, the city has created an “Annette Fund” through Steps to End Domestic Violence to provide needed financial assistance to people seeking a way out of a destructive relationship with a controlling partner.

People are complex. As we consider how people — and particularly women, but not only women — are victimized by their partners in their intimate relationships, let us think about how we all participate somehow in unhealthy dynamics that too often lead to victimization. Let the stories of our community members, like Anako, but also Gretchen Gundrum, Sybil Hearn and Jennifer Kochman, serve as a check on our own behavior and compel us to act in ways that preserve the dignity of the people in our lives, and respond with compassion to people hurting and in need of help, by understanding that these are human stories that permeate and intersect with all the stories of our community.

My heartfelt thanks to the Lumumba family for allowing us to honor Anako by educating the public on intimate partner violence and seeking ways to prevent future tragedies.

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