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V-Day Petaluma is raising awareness of violence against women

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There are more than 7 billion people in the world. Half are women. One in three of those women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. One billion women, ever year, will suffer physical abuse.

The V-Day movement is spreading awareness for this disturbing statistic and Petaluma residents are joining together to help victim's voices be heard.

"This is a shocking statistic. Really, what kind of world is that," said Valerie Richman, V-Day volunteer and DJ for the V-Day Petaluma event.

Eve Ensler, author of 1994 play "The Vagina Monologues," began the V-Day movement on Valentine's Day 1998 (The "V" stands for victory, vagina and Valentine's) to demand an end to violence against women. Proceeds from "The Vagina Monologues" performances are mainly passed on to shelters or rape crisis centers.

Petaluma has partaken in V-Day activities for the past three years, most successfully in 2013 when the One Billion Rising movement began. Ensler called on the one billion victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence to rise up, dance and let their stories be heard.

Different than many groups and events that are focused around female empowerment, Richman insists that men come to these events and be part of the solution.

"It's important to not make it an attack against men. In the '70s there was the civil rights movement, gay rights, all the rights, which were obviously very needed. With women's rights I never liked the whole male bashing part. It's not the answer," said Richman.

She further explains that it is not so much a man's poor reaction or choice when it comes to violence and abuse, but also dysfunctional childhoods and society's mixed messages, especially in the United States.

"Boys are confused in this society. On one side they are shown Bruce Willis movies and learn to be a tough, macho guy; but then they are also supposed to be caring and loving," said Richman.

While V-Day's main mission is to pull back the veil on the issue of violence against women; it is also about finding resources to help the abusers. Richman says such people come from dark places and often need just as much help as the victims.

"We need to do everything we can for people who do these things to get help. It's not like they say, 'Woo-hoo today is the day I get to go out and rape people.' No. It's not a happy place to be," said Richman.

Petaluma's third annual V-Day event on Feb. 14 will start at 4 p.m. with a flash mob at City Hall that will dance through downtown and end at the Petaluma Woman's Club (518 B St.). Events are ongoing until 8 p.m., admission is free and all are encouraged to come.

Activities include a screening of the "One Billion Rising" documentary that premiered at Sundance, drum and spoken word performances, hula hoops, music and dancing, open mic and monologue readings from various speakers including John Crowley, owner of Aqus Caf?

Richman encourages people to talk about sexual abuse and violence, and ask for help if you observe or experience it. Being aware of the sign — someone acting unlike themselves, being withdrawn, wanting to hide — is extremely important as well.

Resources for both witnesses and victims of sexual abuse include guidedtosafety.org and YWCA of Sonoma County as well as both ourverity.org (a rape crisis center, which operates county-wide and seeks to end human trafficking) and the Petaluma People Services Center, both of which will be in attendance for Petaluma V-Day.

Visit vday.org, onebillionrising.org or v-daypetaluma.org for more V-Day information.

(Contact Kaitlin Zitelli at argus@arguscourier.com)