DeKALB – Rebecca endured years of abuse, but instead of staying silent, on Monday she spoke up.
Rebecca was one of more than 60 people who attended a domestic violence vigil hosted by Safe Passage to start Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The event, held at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 615 N. First St. in DeKalb, included a survivor speak out, art showing and candlelight vigil.
“I think that when you hear somebody’s story, you start to see them as a human being,” Rebecca said. “I kept getting into abusive relationships because I had not healed. I see that my abusers were behaving badly because they were not healed either. Telling our stories, both the abused and abuser, begins the healing process.”
Jenny also attended Safe Passage’s domestic violence vigil and shared her story of abuse. She attends and speaks at the event every year.
Jenny was first inspired to speak up about her abuse spontaneously at a vigil about five years ago after a 13-year-old girl stood at the podium to tell her story.
“I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’ ” Jenny said. “I want to help people any way I can. I’m actually getting my master’s degree in psychology, because I want to help. Speaking up helps; I always feel better, lighter, after I share my story.”
Dawn attended the vigil to show her solidarity with other survivors of domestic abuse.
“I came to Safe Passage after learning that most churches are unequipped and uneducated when it comes to domestic violence,” she said. “Coming to Safe Passage has not only empowered me, it has also inspired me to share with others and empower them.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, about one in four women – 23 percent – and about one in seven men – 14 percent – aged 18 and older in the U.S. have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In 2010, 241 males and 1,095 females were killed by an intimate partner.
Lynnea Erickson Laskowski, director of prevention and communication, said that events such as the vigil give abuse survivors an opportunity to stand up and speak out.
“Abusers count on the silence of their victims and society,” Erickson Laskowski said. “This event gives us a chance to say that this is real, that it does happen here, and we will not tolerate this kind of violence in our community. Everything happening with the #MeToo movement and in politics is not new. It’s been happening the entire time; we just haven’t been listening. We have to work together to end abuse and domestic violence in our lifetime.”
Eva Rey, Safe Passage’s board president, said that she first volunteered more than six years ago, answering medical and hotline calls because she grew up in a domestic violence situation.
“This is my way to give back, to help others,” Rey said. “I want them to know that what happened to them is not their fault. They’re not alone. I want them to be inspired by others’ stories, to know that we are here to help.”
Mary Ellen Schaid, Safe Passage’s executive director, said that the domestic violence vigil is held for three reasons: to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to honor survivors and commemorate those that lost their life because of abuse and to inspire others with stories shared by survivors.
“They may have been victimized, but we don’t call them victims,” Schaid said. “We call them survivors. They have survived. Our goal now is to help them thrive.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by violence or abuse, call Safe Passage’s 24-hour hotline, 815-756-5228, for safety, shelter, counseling or legal services. All services are free and confidential.