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Womanspace’s Communities of Light set for first weekend in December

PHOTO COURTESY OF LAWRENCEVILLE MAIN STREET
Evening commuters on Route 206 through historic Lawrenceville are treated to the sight of the village’s quaint gazebo lit by hundreds of sparkling, white twinkle lights. This year’s theme of “Winter Wonderland” was conceived and executed by decorator Hugo Cavalcanti and master gardener Andrea Rabitz, member of the LMS Landscape/Design Committee. The holiday tree was donated by Steve Willard from SavATree Lawn Care and Tree Service. On Dec. 7, Lawrenceville residents participated in “Communities of Light” in support of Womanspace, a local non-profit. They placed luminaries near the gazebo as a symbol of hope for victims of domestic violence.

Communities of Light, which is Womanspace’s signature fundraising event, will culminate at dusk Dec. 3, when households throughout Mercer County place luminaries along their driveways and sidewalks.

Businesses and municipal governments will show their support for the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault when they put out luminaries in front of their locations on Dec. 4.

Luminaries are candles placed in sand-filled bags, whose purpose is to shed light on the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Proceeds from the sale of luminary kits will be used to fund vital services for the victims.

The kits contain six candles, six paper bags and sand.

Every year during November, Womanspace works to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault – leading up to the Communities of Light luminary displays, officials said.

The nonprofit organization, which is based in Lawrence Township, offers counseling and other resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Those resources include emergency housing in a confidential location for the victims.

While women are most likely to become victims of domestic violence, men are also victims of domestic violence, said Nathalie Nelson, Womanspace’s president and CEO.

About 25% of all domestic violence reports to police are made by male victims, Nelson said. However, less than 5% of those male victims are served by agencies such as Womanspace, she said.

Domestic violence also occurs in LGBTQ+ partnerships, she said. Fewer than 5% of LGBTQ+ victims sought orders of protection from the courts to prevent contact with the abuser.

Nelson said that last year, there were more than 6,700 calls to Womanspace’s 24/7 crisis hotline. More than 400 individuals and families fleeing domestic violence found shelter with Womanspace.

The nonprofit group’s counselors provided 374 sessions to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, Nelson said. Womanspace also helps to guide victims through the restraining order process to keep abusers away from victims in Mercer County Family Court.

Womanspace’s Domestic Violence Victim Response Team helped 364 victim survivors who reached out for help, she said. The teams meet with victims at municipal police departments, at the victim’s request. The trained volunteers provide support and resources for the victims.

Similar services are provided to victims of sexual assault through the Sexual Assault Support Services Advocates program, also staffed by trained volunteers. They may accompany the victim to the hospital emergency room.

Since the mid-1990s, police departments have been required to have a domestic violence victims response team, Womanspace officials said. The volunteer members receive 80 hours of training in domestic violence and sexual assault.

When a victim calls the local police department for help, the dispatcher alerts the domestic violence victims response team. While police are investigating the incident, a volunteer will meet with the victim and serve as an advocate.

Womanspace has its roots in the Mercer County Commission on Women, which was created in 1976. During the initial public meetings, the issue of domestic violence came to the forefront, according to www.womanspace.org.

The meetings resulted in a proposal to provide services to women in crisis. The effort was spearheaded by the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who was serving on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders (now known as the Mercer County Board of County Commissioners). She later became the mayor of the former Princeton Borough.

Sigmund, who is considered to be the founder of Womanspace, signed the original certificate of incorporation in 1977, along with co-signers Deborah Metzger, Mary Ann Cannon, Ellen Belknap and Valorie Caffee.

For more information on the luminary kits visit www.womanspace.org.

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