The purple lights stand out on Town Hall's steps, drawing all sorts of attention from people passing by.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
If you’ve driven by Town Hall and noticed it’s covered in purple lights, you’ve seen the newest iteration of Needham High School’s Take Back the Night Club’s Lighting of the Needham Town Hall event. Featuring cardboard cutouts with stories of Massachusetts domestic abuse taped to them, the event sought to raise awareness about domestic abuse during domestic violence awareness month.
“Each October around this time, our club, Take Back the Night, does this event we call Lighting of the Town Hall, because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” club member Miranda Carrillo explained. “We light up our town hall in purple to raise awareness. And we have things called silent witnesses, which are cardboard cutouts of humans. We print out stories of people who have died as a result of domestic violence and we tape those onto the silent witnesses and place them outside of Town Hall to raise awareness about the issue.”
Tracing its roots back to 1960’s Belgium, Take Back the Night is a worldwide organization which, according to their website, “serves to create safe communities and respectful relationships through awareness events and initiatives.” While the lighting of Town Hall might be the Needham High chapter’s most visible event, it is not their only one.
“Take Back the Night is a worldwide kind of movement, and our school has a chapter. At our school we educate our friends and peers about domestic violence and sexual assault. One thing we weren’t able to do last year because of COVID, but hope to be able to this year, was provide training to educate club members with an organization called REACH. We also have our annual event which is usually around February (last year's was virtual) where we have food, music, merchandise and a raffle, so people can buy things and all the money goes to survivors of domestic violence. We also have speakers come who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence, and a police officer will come to educate people about domestic violence and sexual assault, how you can prevent it and the signs someone is experiencing it.”
COVID had another unique impact on the event, though: this year, the website the club uses to discover the stories only showed 2020’s victims, meaning next year’s list will have to feature victims from both 2021 and 2022 so that a year’s worth of domestic abuse sufferers aren't skipped.
Silent witness stories include those from Beverly’s Tina Amore, Somerset’s Amber Pereira, Mashpee’s Sandra Kumar, and Worcester’s Megan McNeil. When asked about how the club chooses which victims to showcase on the cutouts, Carrillo explained: “We try to be as diverse as possible, so we choose men, women, younger people and older people. All types of backgrounds.”
In fact, the Take Back the Night website explains one out of every three women worldwide experience some form of sexual violence or intimate partner violence, while one in six men experience sexual violence, and half of all transgender people have been sexually assaulted.
Carrillo noted the story that most stuck out to her from this year’s crop of victim stories was that of Brookline’s Andy Savitz, who helped run Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign. Essentially, his ex-wife assaulted him, leading to his death of “cardiac dysthymia following an altercation in a person with Hypertensive and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Mellitus.” While first charged with lesser crimes, Savitz's ex-wife was eventually charged with manslaughter.
Each silent witness profile comes with a scannable QR code, which takes visitors to a document the club made explaining why they chose to light up the town hall in purple, why they’re displaying the human cutouts, and what the message they’re trying to relay is. It also includes links the club’s website and Instagram page, as well as the website of the larger Take Back the Night organization. But most critically, Carillo explained, "it also gives you a lot of resources, like the police, Reach, and some domestic violence hotlines.”
While the suspected murder of Gabby Petito put a spotlight on one probable victim of domestic violence, because so many more cases don’t get anywhere near as much attention, and because so few victims are willing to report their cases, Needham’s Take Back the Night Club is doing its best to make sure its neighbors understand the problem as a whole - as well as how to spot it and prevent it, before it’s too late.