KIHEI - Having her sister-in-law and another woman go missing in a matter of weeks and hearing about women victimized by abuse in Maui County, Tina Felicilda Blackburn contacted a local women's advocacy organization to do something to help empower, educate and protect women.
"Women need to be aware and feel empowered; there are other women behind you. You are not alone. . . . There is help out there, and we're here to show you the way," said Felicilda Blackburn, sister-in-law of missing woman Moreira "Mo" Monsalve, in discussing the goal of Women Helping Women's "Women's Rally."
At least 60 people turned out at the Kihei Community Center on Monday night to express their feelings in the wake of the disappearances of Monsalve and Carly "Charli" Scott and how women can protect themselves from harm - physically, mentally and legally.
Tina Felicilda Blackburn (top photo, left) and Lisa Moniz, both sister-in-laws of missing woman Moreira “Mo” Monsalve, participate in a skit Monday at the Kihei Community Center to educate others to empower and to help women who may be suffering from abuse. The event was part of the Women Helping Women sponsored event to address the issue of missing women on Maui as well as to educate and empower women.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Women Helping Women Executive Director Stacey Moniz addresses about 60 people at the “Women’s Rally” on Monday night at the Kihei Community Center.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
The women, who were reported missing by their families a month apart, have become the subjects of national news reports and grabbed the community's attention, fueled in part by social media.
Monsalve, 46, was last seen around 10 p.m. Jan. 12 at her ex-boyfriend's residence in Wailuku.
Scott, 27, who at the time was five months pregnant, was last seen at her sister's residence in Haiku at about 8 p.m. Feb. 9. Family members said that Scott left the house to help her ex-boyfriend, whose car broke down in Keanae.
Police are still classifying the disappearances as missing person cases. On Monday afternoon, police spokesman Lt. William Juan said that police are still actively investigating the disappearances of the women, but there was no new information to share.
Police also have said that there is no evidence linking the two cases.
Felicilda Blackburn said that she has felt an array of emotions after Monsalve, and then Scott, disappeared. Their cases and others involving women who were assaulted and abused made her look at her own life.
At one time in her life, when she was in an abusive relationship, she sought help from Women Helping Women. The missing women made her think about the welfare of women in general.
"I think a lot of women, even for myself, felt kind of helpless (regarding the Monsalve and Scott cases). . . . I thought, 'Oh my God, we need to do something,' '' she said.
So Felicilda Blackburn and others reached out to Stacey Moniz, executive director of Women Helping Women, to put on an education event. The organization's mandate includes assisting victims of physical, sexual and mental abuse, and to run a shelter for those abused.
"Women are getting really nervous and concerned about their safety," Moniz said before Monday's event.
There are many "solutions" for women to protect themselves, and Monday's event was aimed at examining and coming up with those ideas, she said.
Moniz said that her organization was not advocating for any one remedy but noted that people could take self-defense courses, vote for candidates who support women's rights and get involved with a county board or commission to ensure women's safety is protected through law and policy.
Another possibility would be to take a basic car repair course to be able to fix a car when breaking down on the highway, Moniz said.
On Monday afternoon, Alexis Felicilda, the daughter of Monsalve, said that her family was still actively searching the island but in areas that are more difficult to traverse. The family is looking for people who are expert trekkers and those who can rappel. A drone also has been used to check out areas.
"We have been handling the legal side of my mother's disappearance, such as bills and getting a hold of her personal information and belongings. We are still working on getting into her storage unit. We will hopefully get in by the end of the week," Felicilda said in an email.
She expressed some frustration over the police investigation but understood that the police are doing all that they can.
Jeff Simon, a spokesman for the Scott family, said Monday evening that the family is still searching for Scott, if not daily then every other day. He added that family members and supporters have started a nonprofit called Maui Search and Rescue, a volunteer group to assist police and fire crews in their search for lost and missing people.
The rally and education event was held on Girl's Day, a day observed primarily in Hawaii and Japan. It also is known as Doll Festival, or Hinamatsuri, and is celebrated to ensure a daughter's future happiness, according to the Japan-America Society of Hawaii website.
A Women Helping Women news release about the event also said that 2014 is the International Year of the Girl.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.