NORWAY — Purple bows are once again adorning bridges in Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties, prompting people to ask questions and start discussions about their meaning.

That’s exactly what the folks at Safe Voices were hoping would happen when they first came up with the idea.

Three years ago, the purple mesh ribbons first went up on bridges in Franklin County as a means of drawing attention to the issue of domestic violence during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Purple is the color associated with domestic violence awareness, but it also has other meanings. In the two years since, Safe Voices also placed the ribbons on bridges in Oxford and Androscoggin County.

Stacie Bourassa, who has since moved on from her position at Safe Voices, was looking for a way to use the significance of both the month of October and the color purple in a way that would stand out and bring special awareness to the issue of domestic violence. That’s when she thought to put ribbons on bridges, according to Safe Voices Oxford County Community Educator Diane Gallagher.

“Purple does certainly represent many things now, and the month of October represents many things, but the bows on the bridges definitely represent domestic violence,” Gallagher said.

The bows are a simple, visual statement placed in a highly noticeable area so that people driving, walking or riding by might see them and wonder about them. Safe Voices counts on people’s natural curiosity to lead them to find out more information. Or, if the person already is familiar with the bow’s meaning, then the bows serve as a reminder that domestic violence is an ongoing problem.

Each handmade bow has a card attached that explains the reason for the bows and provides contact information for Safe Voices’ 24-hour free and confidential helpline. Gallagher said she knows the bows are working to spread awareness by the feedback Safe Voices has received since they began the project.

“In the first year, it was wondering what the bows were about — and that, of course, led (people) to read the cards,” Gallagher said. “I do all of the work in the schools, and in October, I would bring it up at every presentation. I would ask (students) if they noticed all the purple on the bridges, and of course, they did. I began to realize that even elementary students could understand what domestic violence is. It was powerful to see the conversations that (the bows) were starting in families.” 

Volunteers made and distributed the bows. More than 100 bows adorn the most well-traveled bridges in the tri-county region as part of Safe Voices’ monthlong initiative, which includes organizing events. On Wednesday evening, walkers donning purple clothing gathered at Hosmer Field in Rumford for the annual Walk to End Domestic Violence.

“Anyone, no matter what your gender, race, sexual orientation, age and culture, can be the victim of domestic violence,” Gallagher said. “It is about being involved with someone who chooses to use abusive and controlling behaviors in their relationship.

“When we present to schools, we use much of the time focusing on what behaviors people feel they can choose from when they are having certain feelings, then encouraging students to think critically about where these choices come from,” she said. “We focus on feelings of jealousy and what is a healthy way of dealing with jealousy that isn’t potentially controlling.”

According to the signs on the bows, each year, an estimated 50 percent of all homicides in Maine are domestic violence-related. Gallagher said domestic violence manifests in a variety of ways, but is a generally a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of physical violence, sexual assault and verbal or psychological abuse.

“That’s why the walk is important,” Gallagher said. “It’s not a fundraiser. We want people to know that they are not alone; there are resources available. That’s what the whole campaign is about.” 

Anyone looking for additional information can contact Safe Voices’ free helpline at 1-800-559-2927. For a complete calendar of domestic violence awareness events in October, visit the Safe Voices website at www.safevoices.org.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.