They stood 21 strong, their backs to the harbor, shirts billowing in the sea breeze, cheered on by honking cars, applause and exclamations of gratitude. Their messages, plastered to their chests by a gusty wind off the Vineyard Haven harbor, were names of individuals and groups of women they wished to honor in the fight against domestic violence.
They were fathers, uncles, sons, grandfathers, Islanders and visitors, standing vigil Saturday afternoon on the Vineyard Haven seawall in support of local victims of domestic violence.
The annual event is an initiative of Vineyard Men for Abuse Prevention (VMAP) group, based at the Connect to End Violence center at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Male solidarity helps to enforce a mantra of Connect: that domestic violence is not a women’s issue, but a human issue, organizers said.
Tisbury Police Sgt. Timothy Stobie was one of the wall-keepers. He clutched a sign that read “I stand for my seven nieces,” determined not to lose it to the wind.
In his 31 years of service on the Island, he’s answered his share of domestic violence calls, mostly coming in the winter months.
“I’m really not big on the batterers,” he said with intentional understatement. “There is no logical reason that [domestic violence] needs to happen. So we get people to stand up and show support.”
Organizers hope the visual of the seawall will help bring the issue of domestic violence, a crime committed in the privacy of a home, more to the forefront of the public conscience. Those who do not read the court blotter in the newspaper may not know it is prevalent here, Sergeant Stobie said.
“It’s the same issue everywhere,” said Connect counselor Heather Arpen. “It doesn’t stop when you get to the boat."
But the Island is unique in its isolation. While some generous residents have opened their homes to host survivors of domestic violence, there is no public shelter available. Connect is working to set up a bridge fund for this purpose — to help victims afford safe accommodations and health services off-Island.
The program fields most of its sexual violence calls in the summer months, while domestic violence peaks in the winter. Ms. Arpen says the phenomenon may have to do with the lack of activity on the Island in the winter. “People can become stressed, and financially strained,” she said.
Sergeant Stobie said he’d like to see more people call the police in instances of domestic violence, but some are afraid to do so. His department authorizes emergency restraining orders to protect victims from batterers. They also encourage the use of Connect services throughout the court process.
It was the second annual seawall stand, the vision of Max Sherman, of Community Services. “The seawall is protection from stormy weather,” he said. “These men are the seawall for the women of the Island.” He hopes he’ll see the entire seawall lined with men in the coming years.
”The idea is to use our strength for good instead of for evil,” he said. “The idea is to show that good men are the majority.”