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The National Silent Witness Initiative

The National Silent Witness mission is to promote peace, healing, and responsibility in adult relationships in order to eliminate domestic violence murders in the United States by the year 2020.


How the Initiative Began

In 1990, an ad hoc group of women artists and writers, upset about the growing number of women in Minnesota being murdered by their partners or acquaintances, joined together with several other women's organizations to form Arts Action Against Domestic Violence.


These compassionate women felt an urgency to do something that would speak out against the escalating domestic violence in their state. They set out to create something that would commemorate the lives of the 26 women whose lives had been lost in 1990 as a result of domestic violence.

After much brainstorming, the women began to design 26 free-standing, life-sized red wooden figures, each one bearing the name of a woman who once lived, worked, had neighbors, friends, family, children--whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner, or acquaintance. A twenty-seventh figure was added to represent those 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 to showcase with the newly-constructed Witnesses lined up at the front of the sanctuary. The women formed a silent procession escorting the figures in single file across the street, up the steps, and into the State Capitol Rotunda for public viewing as statements about the tragedy of how their lives ended.


The sheer volume of space the figures occupied spoke of their power... and the loss. The Silent Witness Exhibit was officially launched. A press conference highlighted the organizations purpose and goals for eliminating domestic violence murders.


Inspired by the impact of the Exhibit on many lives, a few of the project supporters came together with Janet Hagberg and Jane Zeller in 1994 with the determination to create a larger goal, namely the formation of a national initiative dedicated to the elimination of domestic murders. It was then that a five part process model evolved starting with the creation of Silent Witnesses Exhibits in all 50 states.


Within one year, 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. By February of 1996 twenty-four states were involved. And in 1997 all fifty states had joined the initiative.


2014-2020 National Silent Witness Initiative Strategic Plan

  • 50 States and 30 countries with multiple Silent Witness exhibits and October events. 

  • 75-85% decrease in domestic violence homicides for women and men, to 400 per year for women and 240 for men. 

  • 5,000 successful Results Projects in all 50 states and 15 other countries to include:  Court Watch, Self-Mastery Treatment Model, Coordinated Community Response, DART, Mississippi Model for African American Teens, Taos Model for Counseling Survivors, Empower for Adolescents, Data Collection, Corporate Prevention Models. 

  • 25 states and 5 countries with zero domestic homicides for women and men for one year. 

  • Accurate domestic violence homicide statistics and data collection in all 50 states and 15 other countries. 

  • Collaboration with 10 other organizations on projects to bring hope and healing to the domestic violence movement in the world.

"History." Silent Witness National Initiative. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <>.

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