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Marchers Seek to 'Take Back The Night' from Domestic Violence

Oct. 23, 2008 — The sounds of the Charlotte Amalie High School Marching Band echoed around downtown St. Thomas Thursday evening, accompanied by the chants of hundreds of other students, community members and local activists that all came together at Emancipation Garden for the Family Resource Center's annual Take Back the Night rally against domestic violence.
Forming long lines also made up of JROTC and spirit squad members, the students toted signs, banners and flags bearing their school colors as they marched from Emancipation Garden, up Government Hill and past the Legislature shouting in unison, "Take Back the Night and shine the light against domestic violence," drawing the attention of every shop owner, government worker and visitor they passed by.
"It's great to see all the young people out like this — I've never really seen this kind of turnout," said Delegate Donna Christensen, who took part in the march. "It's really great. This is where we need to get the message out."
The center's annual event also commemorates National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is marked at the end of the evening by the traditional candlelight vigil meant to "keep alive" the memory of local domestic violence victims, according to Sandra Hodge-Benjamin, the center's executive director.
"We need to solve the plight of domestic violence in the community, and always remember those who have lived, those who have walked among us and those who are not here with us today," she said during the rally, before asking the audience for a brief moment of silence. The excitement of march — which was marked by playful displays of rivalry between the island's two public high schools — was quickly quelled by the seriousness of the occasion, as speaker after speaker discussed the consequences of domestic violence and how it affects the entire community.
"Everyday we are losing people, losing more victims, to this terrible practice," said Kali Richardson, president of the Resource Center's board of directors. "And until everybody decides that they have a role to play in solving this problem, then we're probably going to be here year after year, saying the same things, spreading the same message."
A short rain shower in the early evening matched the tears spotting the cheeks of Monica Carbon, aunt of the late 22-year-old Sherett James, who was gunned down in the early morning hours of March 25, 2006 by her ex-boyfriend Joel Dowdye, a former police officer who is presently serving life in prison for the crime.
"This tragic incident began with domestic violence, and ended with the death of Sherett James," Carbon said. "She wanted to escape, and for a while she thought she did, but her murderer would not let her go. Never forget Sherett or any of these victims, because in their remembrance, they are the ones that make it possible for us to end this cycle."
Blaming the victims is also not the answer, she added. Residents instead have to take a stand and demand accountability from those individuals responsible for prosecuting domestic violence crimes.
"We must continue to speak out against domestic violence," she said. "The voices of many will have such a resounding effect that they can't be ignored."
The V.I. Police Department receives more than 2,000 domestic violence calls each year, according to statistics provided by the Family Resource Center. More than 1,000 domestic violence complaints throughout the territory are filed in Family Court each year.
Over the past two decades, 38 women, two men and two infants have been killed as a result of domestic violence disputes, according to the statistics.
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