Silent Witness Project

The Silent Witness Exhibit was officially launched in 1990, when a group of women, upset about the growing number of women in Minnesota being murdered by their partners, joined together with several women’s organizations to form Arts Action Against Domestic Violence. They felt the need to do something that would address the escalating number of domestic violence deaths in their state, something that would commemorate the lives of the 26 women whose lives had been lost in 1990.

They decided to create 26 free-standing, life-sized red wooden figures, each one bearing the name of a woman who whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner, or acquaintance. A twenty-seventh figure was added to represent the uncounted women whose murders went unsolved or were erroneously ruled accidental. The organizers called the figures the Silent Witnesses.

On February 18, 1991, more than 500 women met at a church across the street from the Minnesota State Capitol with newly constructed Silent Witnesses lined up at the front of the sanctuary. Participating women formed a silent procession escorting the figures single file across the street, up the steps, and into the State Capitol Rotunda for public statements and a press conference. The sheer volume of space the figures occupied depicted power... and loss.

Inspired by the impact of the Exhibit, a few of the project supporters set a larger goal --  the formation of a national initiative dedicated to the elimination of domestic murder.  As of September 1995, a total of 800 Silent Witnesses had been created representing women who were killed as a result of domestic violence in seventeen states.  As of March of 1997 forty-six states had joined the initiative.

The YWCA of Greater Harrisburg has its own Silent Witness Project. Each of the red silhouettes represents a local victim of domestic violence. There are currently 18 named witnesses for Dauphin County.

In addition there is one that represents the unaccounted woman, and one the unaccounted man.

Read their stories:

Catherine J., 39

May 18, 2005

Catherine J. was a 39-year-old Nursing Assistant and devoted mother of four who took pride in her children’s accomplishments. Catherine’s estranged boyfriend had arrest warrants filed against him on March 14 after a city officer on patrol encountered an upset, crying Catherine on the street. Catherine told the officer that her ex-boyfriend had walked into her apartment and began to yell at her and threaten her life with a knife.

Catherine threw her boyfriend out and was in the process of ending the relationship, but on Tuesday evening, May 17th, he returned to her residence and began to fight with her. Witnesses reported hearing Catherine screaming for help and seeing a man force her into a car early on Wednesday morning.

Catherine’s ex-boyfriend led police officers to Catherine’s body, slashed repeatedly and thrown down an embankment in Newberry Township in York County. Catherine’s ex-boyfriend was arraigned on charges of criminal homicide, abuse of a corpse and other counts in Catherine’s death.

Denise H., 27

July 11, 2004

Denise was a 27-year-old mother of two lovely children, whom she loved dearly. Denise was planning to leave her 36-year-old boyfriend, when he beat and strangled her to death in her home. After he killed Denise, he drove the children to their daycare and never returned for them. The perpetrator was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

A Poem For Mom

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet and so are you
I love you so much that I would die for you
I would be Spiderman just to be with you
We’re gonna keep you warm in our hearts
Everyone will miss you a lot
So we will keep you in our heart
and also in our thoughts

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