2021 marks the 34th year recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month — time during which “much progress has been made to support domestic violence victims and survivors, to hold abusers accountable and to create and update legislation to further those goals,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In honor of DVAM, the University of Connecticut’s Women’s Center hosted a Silent Witness Exhibit on Friday afternoon, where stories of Connecticut residents who have since passed away due to domestic and dating violence were displayed upon gold shields.
The shields read names like Jennifer Dulos, 50, Brittany Mills, 28, Kameisha Mills, 23, Artara Benson, 46, Catherine Taylor, 70 and Alessia Mesquita, 28. Before Dulos was reported missing on May 24, 2019, she was concerned for her safety during a divorce and child-custody dispute with her estranged husband. Traces of blood were found in her garage, along with evidence of assault, and it was proven that Dulos’ husband had tampered with evidence. Dulos has never been found.
Brittany Mills and her cousins Kameisha Mills and Atara Benson were all killed in Mills’ Manchester apartment in Dec. 2013, when the killer — who had been in a child support dispute with Mills at the time — opened fire. Taylor moved into her son’s home on Feb. 2, 2019 following an argument with her ex-husband; two days later, he broke into her son’s home and shot Taylor in the head. On the morning of March 22, 2021, Mesquita rode in the car with her killer and their one-year-old; a domestic altercation occurred and Mesquita was shot while exiting the car.
The tragic nature of these stories makes them difficult to hear, but it is necessary to acknowledge and learn from them. Beneath the gold shield display was a table laid with tips and resources, including pamphlets for both recipients of domestic violence and those who aim to be allies by educating themselves and others on how to help. Pins and ribbons were also stationed by the flyers, where attendees were each encouraged to take one.
Natalie Plebanek, a fifth-semester molecular and cell biology major and Women’s Center staff member, was present during the exhibit and was open to discussing the event’s significant impact on attendees. The display has not only proven to offer further education on domestic violence, but has also created an opportunity for honest conversation and allyship.
“People, when they come by, they come back learning more about this topic,” Plebanek said. “But also since having this display up, there’s been people who’ve felt that by coming to this exhibit, they’ve been able to come out with their stories to people in the center and talk about their experiences and about how they can get help for it. So, I feel like that’s something that’s very helpful to see and also very wholesome to see — that by seeing this, [people] can be like, ‘Oh, this is somewhere I can go to talk about this and also to have people who support me through it.’ And it moved me a lot whenever it happened.”
While Plebanek was not able to share the full details of the story, she recalled a time when a student visited the Women’s Center recently. The visit ended up epitomizing the center’s supportive goals and the value of having resourceful spaces on campus for students in need of assistance.
“I didn’t end up talking with her personally, but we had our director talk with her and she was able to get the help she needed from her,” Plebanek said. “Then she told me a little bit about how she came here to get help for the experience that she was going through and from what I saw, I think she was able to get that help.”
The Silent Witness Exhibit will happen once again on Friday, Oct. 29 from noon to 3 p.m. Feel free to stop by, take a pin or a ribbon and learn more about how action and awareness can lead to social change. Domestic violence is an ongoing epidemic that has been overlooked for years. Although Domestic Violence Awareness Month only takes place for 30 days, education and allyship will always be valid in working against gender-based violence.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233