Hundreds of people – committed to working to prevent domestic and sexual violence – shared their personal stories and discussed ways to improve the community response to violence at a State House forum sponsored by Partners.

Legislators, care givers, educators, Partners employees, and survivors all participated in the conversation that was sparked by recent tragic events in the news and the Legislature’s work on stronger, more comprehensive legislation that would help to better protect those affected by domestic and sexual assault.

Gary Gottlieb, MD, President and CEO of Partners called this a major public health issue and said, “We are here together to focus, advocate, and try to eradicate a critical problem in our community. While the efforts of legislators are of vital importance, there is also a role that community organizations like Partners must play to curb the tide of violence in its many forms. We are committing to strengthening our voices, to advocacy, and to the continuous care for victims of sexual and domestic violence.”

Senate President Therese MurrayLike Dr. Gottlieb, the Honorable Robert A. DeLeo, Speaker of the House and the Honorable Therese Murray, Senate President, spoke of the importance of collaboration and a shared commitment to combat violence in society.

“The House of Representatives recently passed domestic violence legislation that is the strongest, most comprehensive of its kind in at least a generation,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “We, as public officials and as a society, must do everything in our power to stem the tragic tide of violence against women.”

President Murray echoed the Speaker’s remarks saying, “Violence affects so many people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts—far too many citizens are suffering. As legislators, we need to do our part to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence.”

Annie Lewis-Oconnor and Jeanne BlakeAnnie Lewis-O’Connor NP, PhD, Director of the Women’s C.A.R.E. Clinic (Coordinated Approach to Recovery and Empowerment) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, gave her firsthand account of how violence is pervasive and impacts the health and wellness of victims.  Annie is a survivor- thriver of domestic violence and is an example of the resilience of the human spirit, a testament to how community resources can help people recover from trauma. Community partnerships are important to all victims’ recovery. At BWH, Annie works with police, Family Justice Center, a local college, community partners, and hospital officials to immediately support assault and abuse victims. “I do this work because I want my patients to have the same opportunities I had.” said Annie. “I am blessed—it all could have gone very differently for me. It is important that we create systems that work for our patients rather than expecting the patients to adjust to our systems.”

Annie was one of many survivors that attended the event. Other survivors courageously participated in the panel and as audience members during the question and answer session.

Jim HeffernanJim Heffernan, Chief Financial Officer, Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, discussed the challenges of raising awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence. Family background, culture, and traditions can establish expectations that enable unhealthy behavior. He shared his story of growing up in a home where his parents were always shouting. He told the audience that because of this experience, during his first 10 years of his wonderful marriage he often worried that the yelling would start. He learned there was actually another version of marriage – one that didn’t include spouses yelling at each other. For Heffernan, it is one of the reasons he believes men should be involved in preventing violence against women and it also why he participates in MGH’s Men Against Abuse campaign – a men’s initiative that pledges to educate and advocate preventing violence against women.

The day encompassed many perspectives, as well as an expert panel moderated by Jeanne Blake which panel discussionincluded: Norma Ayala-Long, Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Police Department; Stephanie Brown, CEO of Casa Myrna; Samantha Wright-Calero, Violence Prevention Specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Maureen Gallagher, Director of Policy at Jane Doe Inc., and Gina Scaramella, Executive Director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Each panelist brought a different perspective to the conversation and each had their own reason for their commitment to the issue.

Deputy Superintendent, Norma Ayala-Long has been employed by the Boston Police Department for more than 30 years. She shared an incident with the audience that happened when she was first on the job and had come to the aid of a battered woman. “Early on, we would get family trouble calls and there was not a whole lot that we could do as police officers,” said Ayala-Long. As much as she wanted to help the victim, she was at a loss—the community resources available did not fit the need. The Deputy Superintendent said even after all these years, she has never forgotten not being able to offer help to that woman, or the smirk on the male abuser's face when he could see there was nothing she could do for the victim. “We didn’t have a way to make a difference, which made me want to commit to developing community resources.”

Fortunately, over the years, there have been many added community resources for survivors through the hard work of the advocates, care givers, and experts on the front lines - and policy makers. However, everyone who attended the forum knows, there is still much more work to do to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to improve the community response.