The nonprofit Winchester-based organization, which provides emergency shelter and support services to local men, women and children who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence, has planned a plethora of activities to help people understand the long-lasting ramifications of sexual assault.
Last year’s commemorations had to undergo some last-minute changes due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there were no in-person vigils to remember victims of sexual violence, an art show was switched from a public exhibit to an online-only display, and a pair of awareness events — “Walk a Mile In Her Shoes” and “Cheers to Consent” — were canceled.
COVID-19 is still around, but The Laurel Center is not going to let the pandemic disrupt this month’s commemorations.
“We knew what we were going into this year,” Cindy Marzullo, the center’s development director, said on Thursday.
“Walk a Mile In Her Shoes,” where men stroll up and down Winchester’s Loudoun Street Mall while wearing high heels, is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 24, and a candlelight vigil for sexual assault victims will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 30 in downtown Front Royal.
Marzullo said the center decided against holding an art show and its bar-hopping “Cheers to Consent” activity this year, but have instead created a new event that people can participate in from the comfort of home. “Light the Night” will begin at 8:30 p.m. April 15, and The Laurel Center is giving area residents everything they’ll need to participate.
The center is handing out boxes of candles that can be lit and placed in front of local homes to spread the word that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of sexual violence.
“Light the Night” was conceived by Chantelle Garber, the center’s bilingual domestic violence and sexual assault victim advocate, and is based on an annual Colombian holiday called Dia de las Velitas, where Christians place candles in front of their homes to light the way for the Virgin Mary as she travels to Bethlehem.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we do something similar?’” Garber said on Thursday. “Your neighbors can ask why you’re burning the candles and that can start a conversation.”
Candles for “Light the Night” can be picked up for free from a box next to the front door of The Laurel Center at 402 N. Cameron St.
“You can also use your own candles, light your own lights, that kind of thing,” Garber said.
Also new this year is an effort to have all merchants on the Loudoun Street Mall decorate their storefronts with teal, the color that symbolizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“We’ll be posting pictures of all the displays on Facebook,” said The Laurel Center’s sexual assault victim advocate, Kayla Lupacchini, who came up with the promotion. “Whoever has the most likes gets a prize.”
Additional activities and events planned to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month include:
Daily informational posts on The Laurel Center’s Facebook page.
Teal ribbon displays at the Warren County Courthouse and along Main Street in Front Royal.
“Denim Day” on April 28, where employers are asked to let workers wear blue jeans on the job in exchange for a donation to The Laurel Center.
To learn more about The Laurel Center and this month’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, visit thelaurelcenter.org. If you are a domestic or sexual assault victim in need of help, call 911 or The Laurel Center’s 24-hour hotline at 540-667-6466.