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Islands glow purple for domestic violence awareness again

For the month of October, SAFE San Juans will once again make the islands glow purple in honor of the survivors and victims of domestic violence.

“The lights are something different from what people are used to and lead them to ask ‘What’s up with the purple lights?’ It was interesting to read the social media posts last year as people asked each other and guessed,” SAFE Executive Director Dave Dunaway said. “Unless we explain them well, they just remain a mystery, so we are trying to help people know what they are about. Once they know, then there is an instant recognition and reminder.”

On Sept. 30, the San Juan County Courthouse will be illuminated by the glow of purple lights. A lighting celebration is set for 5 p.m. at the courthouse.

Purple Light Nights began in Covington, Washington, in 2006. Coincidentally, Friday Harbor Administrator Duncan Wilson was involved in the creation of the awareness event, according to Dunaway.

Since purple is the cause color for domestic violence, the Covington Domestic Violence Task Force devised a subtle way to bring recognition of the problem to its community. SAFE San Juans heard of the initiative a few years back, according to former Executive Director Kim Bryant, but only since 2018 has SAFE San Jauns been able to facilitate an annual event in the islands.

“Our purpose in putting up those lights is threefold. The first is to call out the fact that domestic violence is an issue in this idyllic place that we all love,” Dunaway said. “The second thing we hope to remind people of through the lights is that there is hope for a life free of abuse. … The third is that hope grows with help. Freeing oneself from abuse is a hard thing, but it helps when others come alongside and support you.”

In 2020, SAFE San Juan provided support to more than 135 survivors of domestic violence and their children, according to Dunaway.

“It’s hard to fathom that 135 people would experience domestic violence here, but that is the number we served,” Dunaway said, “and I’m confident there were others who did not report it to us or seek our services.”

SAFE San Juans (formerly DVSAS) is a nonprofit agency whose mission is the prevention and elimination of domestic violence and sexual assault through victim services, education, community awareness, and cultural and social change.

According to organizers, the lights are there to remind everyone to remember the victims, to support those who survived domestic abuse and to provide hope for those still living with abuse.

“So far the Purple Light Nights campaign has been one carried out by SAFE San Juans,” Dunaway said. “Our vision is that this would become a campaign embraced by businesses and individuals throughout the county who join together during October to shine purple lights on this issue. We welcome inquiries from anyone interested in how they can join with us in this.”

For more information about SAFE San Juans, visit http://safesj.org/about, and for more information about the campaign, visit purplelightnights.org.

Dunaway noted the suffering associated with domestic violence is “horrible” and the effects of such violence ripples into the community.

“Abuse does not have to be the final answer,” Dunaway said. “This is true for the one being abused, and it’s true for the one abusing. Choices can be made that will lead to an end to the abuse. They will likely be excruciatingly difficult, but abuse can end.”