By Charlie Heard
There is no better way to understand the epidemic of domestic violence than to hear the accounts of those who have suffered it. Tomorrow night, the UNC Asheville community will have the opportunity to be educated on the present dangers and shocking realities of intimate partner violence without having to leave campus.
Helpmate, a domestic violence agency in Asheville, co-sponsored by UNCA’s Title IX Office, will be putting on a Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in the Mountain View room of the Sherrill Center.
Christy Price, director of outreach and volunteer programming at Helpmate, will coordinate the vigil. Price intends for this vigil to memorialize and honor those affected by domestic violence and educate the attendees about the cause.
“The purpose of the event is to celebrate survivors and also memorialize those who have lost their lives to domestic violence,” Price said. “It’s all about creating awareness that this is real, it’s happening in our community and it’s prevalent. It’s an epidemic.”
Nicole Madle, a 22-year-old rape crisis advocate at Our VOICE, said events like this are important for normalizing conversations around abuse and bringing them to the forefront of our community consciousness.
“Attending events like this vigil is important because they remind us how many individuals are affected by this type of abuse and allow us time to think about the ways which we can contribute to its end,” Madle said. “Domestic violence is a taboo subject but it happens much more often than many of us think.”
After the introduction of the vigil by Helpmate’s executive director and a UNCA campus policeman, the first proceeding to take place will be the reading of names of intimate partner homicide victims in North Carolina from the past year. In previous years, Price read the names at the vigil, but does not anymore due to the intensity of the task.
“Once I had my child, I got choked up every time I got to a kid’s name and I couldn’t continue. I would just stop and hand it to someone else. So a few years ago I started to ask other staff members to do it,” Price said. “It’s really intense for one person to read those names over and over again so now we alternate readers. So one person will read five names and then another person will read the next five and so on.”
For each victim, the readers recite the victim’s name, the town they are from and the date they were murdered. Then, they hold a moment of silence.
“The details about them and their death and the moment of silence are to make sure that we remember that these are real people who lost their lives to someone who was supposed to love and take care of them and to remember that one life lost is too many,” Price said. “It’s a tragic thing and an intense part of the vigil so we are going to do it early on in the program so we can then shift it to the two stories of survivors and their successes, how they got out of it, found the strength to do so and where they found support.”
In terms of education, Price said the speakers’ stories aim to explain the universality of the threat of intimate partner violence and that it extends to people from all walks of life.
“It’s all about creating awareness that this is real, it’s happening in our community, it’s prevalent and it’s happening to people who people usually think it can’t happen to,” Price said. “The two women speaking this year are both professional women with education. One’s a business owner and that’s often a surprise to people that it can happen to people who are highly educated.”
Following the reading of the names with the testimonies of survivors is intended to juxtapose the all too real possibility of harm from a partner with the thankfully real possibility of escape.
“These two situations, they were potentially lethal. There was a lot of significant violence going on. If they had stayed they both felt like they would have been killed, so their stories will be very powerful after reading the names,” Price said. “The goal is for people to see that anyone can be a victim, anyone can be a perpetrator. It’s a hidden problem in our community and we
are trying to bring it to the forefront so that people recognize that it’s happening to our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends and our family. It’s around us and we often don’t see it.”
The prevalence of domestic and sexual violence across all groups of people is the message UNCA’s Title IX Office hopes to impart upon the campus community through its partnership with Helpmate in coordinating the vigil.
“October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the UNC Asheville Title IX Office is pairing with Helpmate to promote awareness in our community and to recognize the women, children and men impacted by domestic violence,” said Keishea Boyd, assistant director of Title IX. “Domestic violence is an issue that is not bound by race, ethnicity, age, ability or other defining characteristics.”
In the past, Price said reactions to this issue range from a desire to get involved with Helpmate and other organizations to people in abusive situations discovering resources which can help them they did not know existed. At the vigil Wednesday, multiple organizations in addition to Helpmate will have tables set up with information including Our VOICE, Pisgah Legal Services and the YWCA.
“We want to highlight the services available because there’s a ton of free services that people don’t know about,” Price said. “We’ll have Family Justice Center materials because we are still trying to create awareness about that. We’ve only been open for a year and a lot of people don’t realize that so many of these organizations are located under one roof now.”