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Changing the conversation around domestic violence

Lauren Williams (left) and Ashley Rivera (right), co-founders of Reach for the Stars. Photo Courtesy of Jordan Lusby
Lauren Williams (left) and Ashley Rivera (right), co-founders of Reach for the Stars. Photo Courtesy of Jordan Lusby

When it comes to tackling domestic violence, activist Ashley Rivera said Baltimore City needs to do more.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Rivera said there has been a lack of related local events.

“I was just very surprised that there was not more happening,” she said.

A few weeks ago, she and Lauren Williams co-founded Reach for the Stars, an organization dedicated to preventing domestic violence. Rivera said as survivors of domestic violence, she and Williams want to see a cultural shift.

“In order to do that, every individual person inside the city needs to do that individual work,” Rivera said.

That means not just survivors who are trying to find resources for healing and support, but also those in the broader community.

Reach for the Stars organized an inaugural event for Friday evening, open to the public, with live music, conversation and resources from other local groups doing violence prevention work. Rivera said the event will be annual.

“We wanted to help people become more comfortable with storytelling, sharing their story and testimonies,” Rivera said.

She said she hopes people will use the events to heal and learn how to identify warning signs for domestic violence. Those signs, she said, aren’t always the most obvious.

“Domestic violence is a huge umbrella term,” Rivera said. “There's sexual harassment and violence. There’s abuse. There’s financial, emotional.”

Throughout the pandemic, reports of domestic violence have gone up across the country. According to data from the city police department, cases went up by one-third in the first quarter of this year. Many cases also go unreported.

Rivera said domestic violence is more than a Baltimore problem. It’s a global one, and that the burden to fight it should not fall on survivors alone.

“If we can do a better job at recognizing signs, if we can do a better job at working on communication and coping skills, if we can do a better job at healing...if we can do that individual work, then we can do stuff together,” she said.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.