Cherry tree planted to honor Hampshire County victims of domestic violence

By Cecilia Prado

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages 15 to 44 and every nine seconds, a woman in the United States is beaten. In an attempt to raise awareness about domestic violence, members of the Northampton-area community planted a flowering cherry tree outside of the Hampshire County Courthouse to honor victims of domestic violence in Hampshire County.

Juliette Sandleitner/ Collegian

Yoko Kato, board member of the Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance, provided the tree, choosing a cherry tree to remember victims because of what it symbolizes in Japanese culture.

During the ceremony, Kato described the cherry blossom as a symbol of the temporary and fragile nature of life, due to its short but beautiful season of blossom. Kato has dedicated her life to fighting for this cause since her 23-year-old daughter Sherry Morton and her eight-month-old grandson Cedric Seabrooks were brutally murdered by Cedric’s father during a domestic dispute in 1993.

Kato spoke about the consequences of domestic violence and the damage it causes to its victims. She described the problem as a life-changing factor for its survivors.

Marianne Winters, the executive director of Safe Passage, a Northampton organization whose mission is ending domestic violence and female oppression, emphasized the importance creating a sense of community plays in the battle against domestic violence.

The organizers of the ceremony intended to create public awareness of the problem of domestic abuse and what it means for the community. In Massachusetts alone, there were 256 domestic homicides from 2003 to 2012. The majority of the cases of domestic violence involve conflicts between intimate partners.

“I never imagined it would happen to me. I always thought of myself as a smart, strong-minded woman,” said Caitlin Conway, a UMass alumni who was recently a victim of domestic violence. “The more I was abused, the more I was in denial of the gravity of my situation.”

She recalled a time when her partner violently attacked her and caused her to lose hearing in one of her ears for two weeks.

“It was frustrating,” she said. “I found myself struggling to listen to what my teachers were saying. I just never thought I would even let someone do this to me.”

For many of domestic violence cases, the problem is not addressed until it is too late. Victims find it hard to inform their loved ones about their situation, and they often feel embarrassed about their problem.

“I didn’t want to get him in trouble, which is why I never said anything,”  said Deliah Rahn, a psychology student at Holyoke Community College who was in an abusive relationship for two years. “I didn’t want people to know what I was going through, because they would probably assume I was weak or had low self-esteem.”

The organizers of the ceremony were the Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, Safe Passage, the Hampshire Council of Governments, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Kato.


Cecilia Prado can be reached at [email protected]