Lanterns lit up Prospect Avenue in the name of domestic violence and sexual assault awareness Monday night.
On Dec. 3, SHARE (Sexual Health Advising/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education) and the local advocacy group Womanspace put together the 17th annual Community of Light Event, placing lit candles along Nassau Street, Washington Road, and Prospect Avenue. With over 600 candles, it was the largest Community of Light event in Mercer County.
Womanspace is a Mercer County-based nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. By placing the candles, Womanspace hopes to spread the message that “Peace Begins at Home.” Additionally, SHARE said the event raised awareness of Womanspace’s work providing resources to victims of domestic abuse. The group advertises that it provides for combating domestic abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
Womanspace has served over 300,000 people since its founding 1977 and has helped over 11,900 adults and children last year, according to its director.
Candles were placed outside eating clubs that had donated to the event as well as the Center for Jewish Life and the Carl A. Fields Center.
Participating eating clubs included Colonial Club, Quadrangle Club, Ivy Club, Cottage Club, Cap & Gown Club, and Cloister Inn.
“The goal is to light up Mercer County,” said SHARE director Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse, who has worked with Womanspace for the past seven years.
Community of Light events also took place in Allentown, East Windsor, Ewing Township, Hamilton, Hightstown, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Pennington Borough, Robbinsville, Trenton, and West Windsor.
Businesses purchased luminary kits from Womanspace and sold them at Casa Aziz, McCaffrey’s Food Market, Princeton Center for Yoga and Health, Terhune Orchards, and Weidel Realtors.
Deitch-Stackhouse said the symbol of a candle suggests feeling safe and welcome.
“It’s a way to acknowledge that we care about issues of domestic and dating violence and sexual assault,” she said. “We want to signal that to folks inside and outside our community.”
Since being founded by former Princeton mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund in 1977, Womanspace has had a strong relationship with Princeton township.
Current Princeton mayor Liz Lempert said that the candles are a way to “symbolically bring light into darkness.”
“A lot of times in domestic violence situations, people don’t know who to turn to to get help,” she said. She said she hopes the candles can educate the broader community and let victims hear about Womanspace’s resources.
Joan Bartl and Rose C. Nini, members of the Womanspace board of directors, also set up luminaries in Palmer Square.
Though they said that they saw the conversation about domestic violence becoming more open in recent years, especially with the advent of movements like #MeToo, they said they feel there is still much work to do.
“More women are willing to come forward to seek help,” Nini said. “It means statistics might be higher, but for a good reason.”
“And we have a long way to go,” Bartl said, referring to the recent appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Womanspace’s president of the board of directors, Danielle Coppola, also said that while conversation on domestic violence has always been relevant, recent political events have brought it to the table again.
“I think they [Womanspace] do tremendous work and are real leaders in this area,” she said.
SHARE Administrative Coordinator Heather Mayer led the event’s volunteer effort. This year was the first time SHARE partnered with the Office of Community and Regional Affairs (OCRA).
Staff volunteers who heard about the event through the OCRA helped with assembling and packaging the luminaries. The process was expected to take two hours, but the group finished early.
“I had to send out an email telling people we finished in an hour, which was amazing,” Mayer said.
When it was time, SHARE staff, peers, and OCRA director Kristin Appelget and associate director Erin Metro distributed and lit the candles.
“To be a partner [with Womanspace] is really meaningful,” Deitch-Stackhouse said. “Because they really do wonderful work in the community, which includes supporting our students.”
She also stressed the impact of University efforts to increase the visibility of domestic violence issues.
“It’s quite apparent from a SHARE perspective that there are a number of folks who really care about these issues and want to let other people know it,” she said.
“This becomes that visible symbol of hope, and support, and safety,” she said.
Ruchita Balasubramanian ’19, a Peer Health Advisor, said that she felt that many students were unaware of the resources offered by SHARE.
“It’s a legitimate issue on campus that is perhaps not spoken about enough in our regular conversation,” she said.