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Annual community vigil highlights East Multnomah County's push against domestic violence

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The Silent Witnesses have stories of domestic violence victims. Red wooden silhouettes stood silently in the Gresham Arts Plaza Tuesday evening, Oct. 22, surrounded by lit candles.

Each of the "Silent Witnesses," which are maintained by Soroptimist International of Gresham, had a plaque bearing the story of someone who fell victim to domestic violence. One told of Maria Soumphonpackdy, a 42-year-old Southeast Portland resident who was killed by her husband on June 27, 2014.

Soumphonpackdy had recently filed for divorce, which led her husband to hold her hostage in an apartment unit. During a standoff with law enforcement, her abuser opened fire, delaying police from entering the unit. By the time police officers made it inside, Soumphonpackdy had been killed and her husband had commit suicide.

Soumphonpackdy was one of the many victims honored during an annual Domestic Violence Vigil in Gresham. The evening was dedicated to remembering and supporting both victims and survivors of domestic violence.

"We are here to support those with the greatest needs in our community," said Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, who has helmed the gathering for more than two decades. "Don't stay silent — it's time to speak up."

Nearly one-third of Oregon women report having experienced some form of intimate partner violence, a rate higher than the national average. According to state figures, 25 people in Oregon were killed in domestic violence-related incidents last year.

But domestic violence affects the whole community. It is the second-most common family stressor in the United States since 2018, behind only alcoholism. Last year the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office provided 26,000 services to survivors.

"Domestic violence is a community issue," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "We won't accept this any longer."

During the vigil a note was read from a survivor, who spoke before her abuser at a court appearance.

"I would not have made it this far without unwavering support from my advocate," the survivor said. "Her strength helped me go on."

Another survivor also spoke anonymously about leaving her abuser a few years back. She was able to find the strength to seek for a better situation after looking at her three children, one a newborn.

"Some people stay (with their abuser) for the sake of their children — I say leave for their well-being," the survivor wrote. "There is a future without violence."

Domestic violence affects women, men, children and people across all cultures. While there is still work to be done, the past five years in Gresham have seen a decrease in law enforcement cases related to domestic violence. In 2018 there were 344 domestic violence cases, almost 200 less than 2013.

"That's still too many," Piluso said.

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