The lights dimmed and the room grew quiet as Sarah Lawson read the names of domestic violence victims from Stokes County. Dozens of candles lit up the room as people listened, some wiping away tears.
The ceremony was part of a domestic violence awareness candlelight vigil sponsored by YVEDDI/Stokes Family Violence and Sexual Assault Services on Monday at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and organizers hoped the vigil would spread the word about the prevalence of domestic violence.
Ashley Roberts, program specialist for Stokes Family Violence and Sexual Assault Services, called the domestic violence problem an “epidemic.” According to statistics she gathered from N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1.3 million women are assaulted each year. Ten million kids witness domestic violence each year, and boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to continue it with their partner.
Roberts informed people of the free help available through her agency. YVEDDI offers the services in Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties, where more than 2,000 clients were served in the last fiscal year.
“We’re working hard to end the epidemic … but we can’t do it alone,” she said.
Sheriff Mike Marshall spoke after Roberts and offered some numbers about domestic violence in Stokes County. He also noted that domestic violence is not just restricted to one gender. In 2011, Stokes County ran 949 domestic violence calls and issued 219 domestic violence orders. From January to the end of August 2012, the county has received 636 domestic violence calls and issued 139 domestic violence orders. There have been two domestic violence deaths in 2012 and there was one in 2011.
Often families try to drop the charges after an initial abuse incident occurs and is reported. The perpetrator promises to be better and the victim decides to let it go. But Marshall said he has not given the go-ahead yet for a charge to be dropped, because he knows how empty the promises to do better usually are. And he has great concern for the children in the homes.
“We have to change what’s happening with kids,” said Marshall. He got choked up as he relayed an account of an encounter 13 years ago that left an impression on him. Marshall was working a stabbing case, and he said he can still remember the look on the little girl’s face after seeing her mom stabbed to death.
After the remarks, candles were lit in the room. A candle had been distributed to each attendee when they arrived. Sarah Lawson read the list of names, then Steve White sang a song about a child who observed domestic violence. Kim Blake sang a song earlier in the event as well. After a closing prayer, refreshments were offered to those in attendance.
Lawson became emotional when she read the list of names and offered thanks to the officers present for their help to those in need. Lawson explained later that she has personally suffered from domestic violence, and she appreciates the help of officers.
She tells other victims: “Don’t give up, because (officers) are there to help you.” Even if there are bumps along the legal process to get protective orders or conviction of charges, Lawson encourages people to keep on trying.
Sheriff Marshall encourages people to seek help. He hopes to one day be able to stand at the vigil and report that there were no deaths that year related to domestic violence.
Roberts said she was very pleased with the turnout, especially on a cold, rainy Monday night. She hopes those who attended will let others know that there is help out there for those suffering from domestic abuse.
Stokes Family Violence and Sexual Assault Services has a 24-hour hotline and also provides information about 50-B and 50-C protective orders, individual and group counseling, court advocacy, community referrals, education programs, and more. And it is all free of charge. Program workers will even transport someone to a shelter if needed due to domestic violence. For more information, call 593-9323.