Vigil kindles hope for domestic violence victims
While others around her are holding candles, Renee Bradshaw is holding a photo. It’s a picture of her friend, Roxanne Fowler Maddry.
Maddry, a Rowan County native found dead in her ex-boyfriend’s home in June, is counted as one of the 45 victims who died in a reported domestic violence incident this year.
Bradshaw is the executive director of Family Crisis Council of Rowan County and deals with domestic violence issues every day, but even she is at a loss for words.
“It’s a sad day,” Bradshaw said.
Monday night more than 100 people, including Bradshaw, gathered in front of the Rowan County Courthouse on North Main Street to hold a candlelight vigil for survivors and victims of domestic violence. It’s a yearly event organized by the Family Crisis Council and sponsored by the local chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Alpha Phi Alpha to honor Domestic Violence Awareness month: October.
The stairs to the courthouse were decorated with luminaries and 45 pairs of shoes — one for each victim of domestic homicide in North Carolina from October 2012 to September 2013. The purpose of the event is twofold — to honor survivors and memorialize victims, and to raise awareness.
Sh’Myra Moore, organizer of the 2013 vigil and volunteer with the Family Crisis Council, said domestic violence is often a misunderstood issue. Most people, she said, believe domestic violence is physical abuse that occurs between dating couples. The reality is that domestic violence has a much broader definition.
The Family Crisis Council defines domestic violence as incidents within families or intimate partners that consist of verbal humiliation, emotional or physical abuse, economic sabotage, or isolation used to create fear and pain in order to dominate. Domestic violence is found in all socioeconomic classes.
“Domestic violence doesn’t have a face,” Moore said. “You never know what’s going on in someone’s home.”
A series of speakers spoke in honor of victims and survivors, or gave a call to action.
Livingstone graduate Sierra Watkins wrote and performed a piece called “Home Scared,” which detailed the struggles of a young girl who lived alone with an abusive mother. Watkins’ piece illustrates a problem many from domestic violence face — the decision to speak out or remain silent. Watkins’ piece draws to a close with the speaker addressing the audience, “Don’t do as I’ve done. Speak out.”
Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook also spoke. In her time as district attorney, Cook has worked to aid victims of domestic violence by setting up a specialized team and a court tailored to hear domestic violence cases.
Cook said that the N.C. Coalition against Domestic Violence reported that 1 in 4 American women were likely to experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, and women are nine times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner.
“You have to ask yourself, what can you do? Is there something you can do different?” Cook said.
The answer is yes. It takes community support and awareness to help victims of domestic violence recover and rehabilitate and to prevent such incidents from occurring — be it volunteering or being willing to speak up when something seems wrong.
Rachel Simmons, the last speaker, managed to escape an abusive relationship with the help of the Family Crisis Council, and now volunteers at Rowan Helping Ministries. She hopes to volunteer with the Family Crisis Council and help others, just as others helped her. At the vigil Simmons read a poem called “You Told Me” that details her anger and feelings of helplessness, as well as her path towards forgiveness and healing.
At the end of the night, the crowd lit candles and observed 45 seconds of silence in honor of the past year’s domestic violence homicide victims. Organizers rang a bell for each victim.
Organizers feel that the key to preventing domestic violence lies in the community — and that is why the vigil is so important. If they feel that the community supports them and is behind them, organizers said, they may be more willing to seek help.
“It is up to the community to keep the candles burning so that we’ll see the path of awareness,” Bradshaw said.
For more information on the Family Crisis Council of Rowan County, visit http://familycrisiscouncil.org/ .