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More than 200 students and community members gathered Tuesday on Barton College’s campus pledging as one to take a stand against domestic violence.
Wesley Shelter’s annual Take Back the Night vigil was a chance to not only remember those who have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence, but to celebrate those who have escaped and survived.
“Domestic violence is very real,” said Lynne White, the Wesley Shelter’s executive director. “It’s a pattern of intentionally violent and/or controlling behavior used against a family member or dating or intimate partner to gain control and power over that person. It can be during or after the relationship ends.”
White said it doesn’t discriminate, either, and people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds are affected.
“As a community, we must continue to educate and raise awareness of the vicious cycle of domestic and sexual violence,” she said.
White said one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of domestic violence.
“One in five teens is now reporting an incident of physical violence with their dating partner,” she added.
She said women ages 18 to 24 are most affected.
“That’s usually one of the first age ranges when domestic violence begins,” she said.
White said advocates know many more suffer in silence as well because they are too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
“Or maybe they just don’t understand that domestic violence can be more than just bruising or hitting,” she said. “It can be sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, spiritual, all very hurtful. In the age of technology, that also can be used.”
‘I RAN FOR MY LIFE’
Sandy Barber, a domestic violence survivor, shared her powerful story during the vigil. She said at age 16, she met who she believed at the time was her Prince Charming. They were high school sweethearts.
Barber said she should have realized the signs at the beginning. He would occasionally get angry and upset. But through the years of marriage and having children, it progressively escalated.
He would yell at her, punch walls and throw things, she said. And each time he would apologize. They were educated. They went to church. And everyone thought they had a picture-perfect life. But at home, things were different.
He violently pushed her down while she was pregnant. He shoved and kicked her on other occasions. He threatened to kill himself several times. He manipulated and controlled her, Barber said.
“I walked on eggshells,” she said. “Everything triggered him.”
And each time, he promised to work on himself, but the cycle always continued. And he was a police officer and member of the military. She finally got the courage to leave, but she returned.
On average, officials say, a person will leave seven times before making that final break from an abusive partner.
In January 2016, something inside Barber changed. He kicked her again while she held one of her children in her arms. She had enough. She said when he passed out in the shower and fell asleep, she got herself and the children together.
“I ran for my life,” she said. “I had finally found my strength to leave.”
Barber said the Wesley Shelter has been instrumental in helping her throughout her time rebuilding her life. She said she’s also learned to value herself and to keep pushing to become the person she knew she could be.
Candles flickered as Wilson Police Capt. Kendra Howell read aloud the names of 72 men, women and children who died in the past year across the state as a result of domestic violence.
Howell also encouraged those who see the signs of domestic violence to reach out and get that person help.
Barton College student Sarah Kirk also read the “Survivor’s Psalm” to the crowd gathered. Barton College President Doug Searcy said those who took a stand Tuesday evening demonstrated their support and awareness.
“We stand against sexual assault, gender violence and domestic violence,” Searcy said. He said the Barton community also stands up to support survivors.
“As a community we demonstrate a collective voice,” he said, adding that it shows active strength.
Students and staff later walked the Barton Mile in honor of all those affected by domestic abuse.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic/partner abuse or sexual assault, contact the Wesley Shelter at 252-291-2344. All calls are confidential and trained staff is available 24 hours a day. The Wesley Shelter is a United Way agency.