Lighted silhouettes at Town Hall for Domestic Violence Awareness Month/ Credit: Needham Public Health Dept.

There’s a myth that it’s easy to spot a domestic abuser in a crowd. The truth is that an abuser is often charming, outgoing, successful and not easily identifiable. Another myth is that an abuser acts out of anger or because of an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Not so. What the abuser really wants is power over and control of their victim.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Hanna Burnett, a Needham public health nurse and co-chair of the Domestic Violence Action Committee (DVAC), wants to emphasize that despite the relative prosperity of Needham residents, domestic violence does happen here. “In a wealthier community like Needham and other surrounding areas, it’s easier to hide. We don’t know what happens behind the closed doors in our big houses. We can outwardly look like we have our lives together and yet there are hidden, secret spaces no one has access to.”

Burnett and DVAC are bringing attention to domestic violence with a display called “Silent Witness” on the steps of Town Hall through Oct. 31. Mannequins represent real victims whose voices have been silenced by domestic abuse. Each has a story that can be read and a QR code that can be used to access domestic violence resources. 

According to statistics provided by Needham police, officers have responded to 143 calls since 2022. Most of those involved verbal threats, but there were cases of alleged assault and battery and even strangulation. Twenty-five percent of those calls involved children. 

The Needham health and police departments receive some financial support to address domestic violence from a trust fund established in 1984 by two local sisters, Ruth and Virginia Bigwood. That money is used for education and to help victims find housing, get counseling, and even send vulnerable children to summer camp. It helps, said Burnett, but it’s not enough, so donations are welcome.

Burnett said anyone in immediate danger should call 911. Resources are also available at Reach Beyond Domestic Violence, which has a free, 24-hour hotline (800-899-4000). Any public health nurse at the Needham public health department can also help.

“It doesn’t have to make the headlines for abuse to be really, really bad for the people who are living it,” she said.

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