Rally raises awareness for domestic violence
A healthy relationship is something everyone deserves. That was the overall theme of a recent rally to kick off Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Dozens of students and community members gathered on the campus of Haywood Community College Tuesday at the “Love Sings Out” concert, an event sponsored by REACH of Haywood and the Haywood Domestic Violence Task Force.
Last year, North Carolina ranked 23rd in the nation for domestic violence homicides with 122 victims — 78 female and 44 male, according to numbers released from the state Department of Justice. That number is an increase from 106 in 2011.
Other statistics show that one in every four college women will be raped or sexually assaulted. Those numbers are what inspires REACH and other local organizations to hold the annual rally, said Buffy Queen, community educator for REACH.
Last year, REACH decided they wanted to hold the rally on the campus of HCC in an effort to reach out to the younger demographic, ages 16 to 24, that are particularly at risk for domestic violence. That’s because domestic violence can begin in the early stages of dating.
This year’s program focused on the stages of relationships, beginning with the “flowers and roses” stage when a couple first starts dating. But as time goes by and the couple gets to know one another more, the relationship changes.
“The romantic stage lasts about two years and then the real work begins,” Queen said.
Matthew Curry, who starred in HART Theatre’s recent show “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” sang several of Cash’s tunes that demonstrated the different stages of relationships from the sweet lyrics of “This Thing Called Love” to the ever popular “Walk the Line” and ending with the comical song “Man Named Sue.”
But the serious undertone of the show was to remind the audience of the signs of an unhealthy relationship, which often includes jealousy, controlling behavior, isolation and hypersensitivity.
Stacey Meeker, a mother of two, spoke to the audience of her experience in a domestic violence relationship and the sights and sounds of early abuse. More than anything, she said feelings of insecurity, insignificance and fear are important signs that something is wrong in the relationship.
“One is a whole number,” she said. “You don’t have to be with someone to be whole.”
Domestic violence cases are not only increasing, they are also becoming worse.
“They’re getting more brutal, a lot more brutal,” said Suzie Pressley, domestic violence advocate for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.
Domestic violence cases often involve children and elderly people.
Pressley referenced two recent separate cases involving young fathers who shook their babies, causing physical damage. She also recalled a case that is currently pending in court involving a father accused of murdering his 4-year-old son.
Sometimes it's difficult for a victim to recognize the signs of abuse, but there is help available in Haywood County, said Pressley, who helps victims take out protective orders against abusers.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Stevens is the prosecutor in the specialized prosecution team for the 30th Prosecutorial District, which was funded through a grant from the federal office for violence against women in 2008.
“Recognizing domestic violence is being aware of the signs and it’s not always visible bruises and cut lips. It’s a steady withdrawal from family and friends,” Stevens said.
Even when a victim realizes there is a problem in the relationship, it is often difficult to leave. Statistically, a woman will leave and come back to a domestic violence relationship seven times, Stevens said.
“Having a dedicated prosecutorial team is really important because so many times the victim feels like there is nobody to help them,” she said, adding that when abusers are charged in Haywood County, the conviction rate is high.
REACH is also a valuable resource for victims of abuse. The nonprofit organization offers free services to domestic violence victims such as finding them work, transportation, shelter and even therapy.
In conclusion, Queen said it’s important for victims of domestic violence to know that it's not their fault.
“Nobody has a crystal ball to know how a new relationship is going to turn out, so no one should ever blame themselves if they become involved in an abusive relationship,” she said.
Though violent relationships are complicated to get out of, she said victims should always remember that there is absolutely no excuse for abuse.