Bringing sexual violence out of the shadows

Sterling Bishop (left), Sheryl Taylor (center) and Shannon Fleming (right) walk for survivors. —Daniel Greenman

Several dozen Vineyarders carried signs through Oak Bluffs’ downtown on Saturday morning, showing solidarity with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Marchers, some themselves survivors, said they came to Ocean Park to advocate for those in need and combat stigmas that many victims struggle against. 

“It’s important to spread awareness,” attendee Karen Medeiros told The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Saturday’s march was organized by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which runs the Connect to End Violence program on-Island. Connect provides a 24/7 crisis hotline, crisis intervention and counseling for victims, supervised visitation, community education, and more. The march, typically an annual event, was the first held since COVID-19.

“The purpose of this [march] is to have a visual presence, and let it raise awareness that these issues have been here on the Vineyard,” Jennifer Neary of Community Services told the Times. “Especially when it comes to sexual violence … we want to bring it out of the shadows, and make people aware that this issue happens here, it happens to our community members, and that there are supports available.

“[People] might not define their relationship as one that is domestic or sexual violence, but they just might know that something doesn’t feel right. So we’re here to support them. We’re not here to define people’s experience for them,” added Neary.

Teal was the color of the day on Saturday, and is also the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, April. With teal bandanas, ribbons, and pins provided by Community Services, marchers wore their support on their sleeves. Attendees were also guided through Oak Bluffs with teal arrows, and facts about sexual violence that were posted around the town.

Community Services professionals say that they have to account for certain Vineyard-specific issues while helping victims. 

“Due to the smallness of our community — the complete lack of anonymity that some people feel that we have here — it can be exceptionally difficult to come forward to seek help, especially if the perpetrator of the violence is someone who is well-known in the community,” Neary said. “We’re here to believe people, and we’re here to protect their privacy and confidentiality.”

Professionals also said that the lack of affordable housing on-Island is a complicating factor. “Oftentimes, survivors can’t easily get out of the home or move into another home, so they’re either forced to stay, or, if it’s a very serious situation, they’re forced to make the other person leave by means of [a] restraining order,” lead court advocate Tara Simmons said.

Outreach coordinator Pricila Vilaça, who addressed attendees in Portuguese before the march, says housing scarcity also affects support for the Brazilian community: “The lack of places to live means a lot of people living in the same house. And I believe this increases the violence as well.”

Connect’s 24/7 crisis hotline can be reached at 508-696-7233. It is for those in crisis as well as those seeking to schedule a counseling appointment.


  1. This is wonderful organization,I’m happy to know that you exist.
    Please let me know what kind of things we can do as a voulenteir.

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