NEW CASTLE —
Surrounded by domestic violence-themed artwork, Jessica Lieber Smolar may have painted the brightest picture of all.
The assistant U.S. attorney was the guest speaker last night at the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County’s annual Paint for Peace event at The Villa. Each year, the shelter invites the community and local businesses to create works of art that shine the light on the problem of domestic violence.
Lieber Smolar focused on the Violence Against Women Act signed into law in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton. The legistation sought to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
It’s definitely made an impact. Between 1994 and 2010, annual incidents of domestic violence dropped by 67 percent nationwide, Lieber Smolar noted, and between 1993 and 2007, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner declined 35 percent for women and 46 percent for men.
“In addition, before the act, stalking was not a federal crime,” she said. “It is now, and our office does prosecute stalking cases.”
Still, Lieber Smolar went on, there is much to do. Statistics show that domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States and that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
“Certainly the act has been a resounding success and a lifeline saving countless women’s lives and livelihoods,” she said. “It has improved our ability to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. And it’s helped victims of these crimes get access to much-needed services.
“But much still needs to be done to make sure that our children and grandchildren grow up in an America free of domestic violence.”
That, Crisis Shelter director Deborah Hartman said, is where events such as Paint for Peace come in.
“This event showcases to the public that domestic violence is still a very pervasive problem,” she said, “but we can work together and shine a light, and show that there is hope and healing at the end of the day.
“The artwork, some of it is so poignant, and so personal, but it’s so important to showcase to the community that the problem still exists and that we have to lift that veil of shame and secrecy so that the true work of healing can begin.”
Of the pieces of art displayed last night, five were named finalists in both the student and community artwork categories. Visitors to the event voted on their favorites, and the winners are to be announced at a later date.
Meanwhile, Community Alternatives Inc. repeated as the winner for the best window display by a local business or agency.
The Crisis Shelter also bestowed Peace Awards on Christine Cantaloni and the Ellwood City Police Department.
Cantoloni, Union High School guidance counselor, was recognized for four years as advisor of Union’s SAVE4 club against domestic violence. Ellwood’s police were saluted for piloting the state’s first Lethality Assessment Program, which helps officers responding to domestic disturbances determine a victim’s level of risk. Chief Mark Romutis and Mayor Anthony Court accepted the award.