By Amanda Bouley
For The Maine Campus
One by one, the glowing candles in white, waxy bags carefully made their way down the bank.
One by one they were set free onto the calm waters of the Stillwater River.
Together they were swept down the river by the crisp autumn breeze.
Phrases such as, “We will remember you and honor you,” and “God bless those who did not die in vain,” were echoed as these symbols of the lives of domestic violence victims were released.
The domestic violence vigil and candle float held Tuesday, Oct. 30, was sponsored by the Safe Campus Project. The events, which took place against the back drop of night on the shore of the Stillwater River, served to wrap-up a series of events held during the last four weeks as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“There is a long tradition to these vigils as a way to honor the victims and survivors of domestic violence,” Renate Klein, director of the Safe Campus Project, said.
About two dozen people met at the edge of the Steam Plant parking lot on this cold, clear night to take part in this event, despite the frigid temperature.
Each participant huddled close around a picnic table that was covered in short, white bags. There were dozens of bags, each containing a flickering candle and bearing a message. The bags each bore the name, age and hometown of a person who had been killed as a result of domestic violence.
According to Klein, most of these victims were adult women. Some of the victims were male. All were from towns and cities in Maine, including the town of Orono. The ages of the victims ranged from four weeks old to 87 years old.
The cluster of participants gradually formed a line as they gingerly moved over rocks and down the bank to the water’s edge. The candles were delicately passed from hand to hand and the information on each of the bags was read aloud before the candle was set afloat.
Each candle followed a different path as the bags swam down the river. Some stopped to rest on the side of the bank, but onlookers gave them a gentle push and sent them on their way.
According to Lisa Black, a graduate assistant of the Safe Campus Project, the idea of a candle float to honor the lives of domestic violence victims originated in Montreal, Canada in 1989. Community members there organized the event to show respect for the lives of 14 female engineering college students who were brutally killed because their murderer believed they were “feminists.”
Even though all the victims that were honored in this vigil were from Maine, domestic violence is a nation-wide problem.
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Nearly one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.”
After all the floating memorials had been released, participants paused for a moment of silence to reflect as they gazed at the soft glow of the candles.
“I definitely hope that we can continue this again next year, and as long as we can thereafter,” Klein said.