By Laurel Davis, for The Signal
When Signal Multimedia’s Russ Briley opened up yesterday’s inaugural Domestic Violence Summit, he mentioned that he himself had endured years of domestic abuse as a child until his older sister took him into her home when he was 16 years old.
It was the first time he had ever shared his story in front of a large group. His words immediately set the tone for sharing and building a community connection on the issue of domestic violence.
“It was very difficult telling my story, but if it helps other victims, this is the best place to have shared it,” Briley said.
More than 180 attendees joined forces yesterday at the Domestic Violence Summit, hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Signal and College of the Canyons at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center.
Witnesses to violence
Also sharing a snapshot of her story during the general morning session of the Summit was Kim Goldman, executive director of The Youth Project and sister of Ron Goldman who was murdered in 1994 along with Nicole Brown Simpson, the estranged wife of O.J. Simpson.
“I am part of the collateral damage and this event highlights the impact on the periphery of domestic violence,” Goldman said.
Drawing audible gasps from the audience, Shana Williams – the domestic abuse survivor previously profiled in The Signal – told her personal story as well.
Williams shared horrific details of eight years of violence. But she pointed out that her main goal for speaking at the Summit was to address what the community can do to help save lives.
“My daughter and I did not become just another statistic – because of people like you (who decided to attend the event),” Williams said.
Goldman added, “We don’t ever forget, so wherever it is that you enter as a victim’s lifeline, you still have a very important role.”
Even though Santa Clarita is the third safest city in the United States, domestic violence does exists and there are services available in the city to assist, Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar told the attendees, noting it’s important for the community to be aware of the issue.
Of the 11 homicides that occurred in Santa Clarita in 2014-2015, nine of them were related to domestic violence, according to a representative from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
“I hope you will carry today’s lessons with you,” Kellar said. “I hope it helps you save someone’s life.”
Calling the all-day event a “tremendous success,” Signal Publisher Chuck Champion noted the wide cross-section of representation from within the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond.
“For an inaugural event, I was very pleased to see families, COC (College of the Canyons) students, educators, law enforcement, city officials and social service agencies from not just our valley but across the greater Los Angeles and Ventura Counties,” Champion said.
“COC is honored to be part of this very important program,” said Bruce Fortine, president of the board of trustees for the Santa Clarita Community College District, in an interview after the morning session.
“If we can help one person at a time, we’re doing a great job,” he said.
Proceeds from ticket sales for the Domestic Violence Summit will benefit the Coalition for Family Harmony, Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita Valley, and the SCV Youth Project.
Caroline Prijatel-Sutton, executive director of the Coalition for Family Harmony, said it is the community’s duty to participate in these events because domestic violence is a community issue that requires a community response.
“We do a lot of intervention, but there’s not a lot of funding for prevention,” she said.
Mid-morning and early afternoon breakout sessions covered a choice of topics with guest experts speaking on Domestic Violence and the Media, Community as a Bystander, Best Practices, and Understanding the Male Survivor.
During the lunch session, keynote speaker Jackson Katz founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention emphasized the need for “a paradigm shift in our thinking that domestic violence is only a women’s issue.”
It is also a men’s issue and a men’s leadership issue, he stressed.
Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence was featured in one of the afternoon sessions.
“Our goal at The Signal is to keep the issue of domestic violence in the forefront of the community ongoing,” Champion said, ”and this summit was an excellent kick-off to achieving that goal.”