“Silent No More”- a vigil for victims

It was not a good night. Not good because it wasn’t good. It was horrifying and tragic, and private. It was exhausting; emotionally and physically draining. It was a room full of victims and victim supporters with stories of abuse filling the air.

I haven’t attended this kind of event before Wednesday night, and although I disagree with parts of it, I look forward to participating in more.

I could hear the thank yous and introductions as I ascended the stairs to the rooftop of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Darlene McCoy was beginning to sing as I entered the room. That was it for me. I was a goner. Tears, oh my, the tears. I haven’t spent a great deal of time crying over the last couple of years. I cried after my cousin’s wedding, but not tears of joy, selfish tears of anger at my loss of a marriage. I cried when I gave my children to an abuser.

Pixel 99 Photography 2012
more photos: Partners Against Domestic Violence

I found a little hole in the people and propped myself up against the wall and breathed. A dear woman noticed and she went to get tissues. She handed me two and started walking through the rows handing out more. She looked back at me and returned to hug me. I accepted her hug. That is not like me. I have allowed so few people to touch me, but this felt so genuine I accepted her act of support, and then cried some more. I didn’t even feel like taking a shower after being touched by a stranger; I just wanted to wash the pain with tears.

After a beautifully sung song, the speaking began. Before the survivors were invited to the microphone, the Atlanta Police Department was honored for working to end DV in Atlanta with the creation of a dedicated Domestic Violence Squad. The squad became active January 2012 with one lieutenant, one sergeant, and eight investigators.

In these first 10 months “the unit has handled 765 total cases including: eight domestic rapes, 20 domestic robberies, 288 domestic aggravated assaults, 391 domestic batteries, 26 other sex offenses  and 32 other offenses” (The Sacramento Bee). I hope this squad continues its work, and that it gains more officers; 10 is not enough.

Four survivors shared their stories. The first spoke of 10 years of progressive abuse. The second read the letter she wrote to herself on the first night she stayed in a shelter. The third spoke of the 12 hours of torture she endured after visiting a friend in the hospital, and her abuser’s threat to cut her into tiny pieces and bury her in the backyard. The fourth told her sister’s story. Her sister is Clara Riddles; she was shot and killed outside the CNN newsroom April 3, 2007.

Following the story of Clara, the candle lighting began. As one candle lit another the microphone was passed to read the names of women and children murdered by their abusers over the last 12 months. I’m not sure the exact number of names read aloud, but it was close to, probably over, 50 names. People ranging in age from 12 to 90. Fathom that: 12 – 90. A 12-year old murdered by abuse. A 90-year-old murdered by abuse. Little girls and boys, teenagers, middle-agers, elderly, murdered by abuse. Murdered.

Then it ended. The vigil was over and people began to leave. I stood for a few minutes and steadied myself. When I saw the police officers reach the back of the room, I slid in behind them and exited. So did another woman, and when we reached the outside she asked if we could walk together to the parking lot. I was grateful for the company, tho neither of us spoke.

I do appreciate this experience. What I did not appreciate was the privacy of the event. As I walked from my car toward the building, I looked around for a group of people. I couldn’t see any people, but I could hear a crowd. The crowd was on the rooftop terrace. No one who didn’t know this was going on could participate. I would not have found them had I not entered the building and asked where it was.

We were hidden from the public. I felt like all of our talk of getting out the word that domestic violence is real, is current, is everyone problem, was lost to the sheltering of the event. Portable PA systems have been available for years and there is a nice green field right next to the Chamber building. The weather that night was perfect. The temperature was in the mid 60s, the wind was light, and the moon was bright.

I also felt like we were ushered out. I wanted to connect with survivors and supporters here in Atlanta. I can’t say that this didn’t happen before the event; it was a few minutes after 7 when I arrived and the event had already officially begun. I didn’t feel encouraged to mingle, to meet, to share my story along with other stories. Event-volunteers were busy picking up empty water bottles and extinguished candles. When it was over, it was time to leave. Not a hint of an invitation to uplift and support each other.

It is also disappointing that cameras from a local news station and newspaper were present and filming, yet I can not find that anything was aired or published.

This was an exhausting experience. I had a headache and my body hurt when I left. I made two wrong turns going home and traveled an extra 30 miles.

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11 comments

  1. I think the only way this is going to change is if the victims/survivors get out there and be honest and not fear speaking out. New approaches to spreading the message are needed. Being a victim/survivor does not mean we were weak. It means we are strong. No one asks to be abused. No one likes to be abused. But we all think we can stop the abuse. We can’t. The only way for it to stop is for us to leave. We can no longer be a part of the equation that allows abuse to continue. And we can’t stop fighting this. We need to do it for the ones who lost their lives to this evil. We need to hang in there and keep fighting the good fight. 🙂

    1. I agree that we cannot stop it except by leaving it. Abusers will abuse. Alcoholics will drink. Murders will murder. Robbers will rob. Drug addicts will score a hit. These are choices people make.
      We can’t stop abusers from choosing to abuse. We can continue to talk about our experiences and make it harder for abusers to find a new victim.

  2. How can I help? What can I do to help people realize that all this still happens?

    1. Statistics tell me people know this still happens. The common numbers say that 25% of the population are victims and that 75% of the population knows someone affected. Victims are blamed for “letting” it happen, and supporters are questioned for helping someone who “won’t” help themselves. That’s where the change needs to happen. We need people to become comfortable with this very uncomfortable epidemic so abusers are the ones who are questioned about their actions.

  3. Wow I would have been in tears too. It is sad as well that it’s all so hidden! I wish I too knew where to go to bring this into the public eye more!!

    1. I was on a road trip last night, so I had 9 hours of driving to scan the radio and my brain. I think I have decided I’d like to talk to the organizers about bringing this down to the field next year. People were (still are, probably) very uncomfortable when Pride parades walked in public, but the support has grown the more the Pride becomes public. I almost feel like we need to “force” this issue on people like AIDS, Cancer, and LGBT has been – and that has made all the difference.

      1. it is likely and sadly the case xo

        1. I sent you an email. I used the address in your Gravatar profile; I hope I got that right.

  4. I hate how our society blames victims. I hate our rape culture. I hate the objectification of women.

    I live in a backwater, redneck province where it seams almost everyone accepts the status quo. Trying to convince one person at a time to open their eyes to the oppression and victimization has been slow and exhausting.

    I like the idea of bring the issue to the forefront. Bringing it to the field and making yourself seen. Your blog is doing this. As I read my heart breaks, I understand a little more and I am able to empathize and love more. Keep standing firm. I promise to stand with you.

    1. I think even if you lived in the heart of the largest metropolis you would find the status quo is accepted. This is still considered a “private matter,” even tho the public pays the price.
      I will keep standing firm, and thank you for standing with me. I would like to see people blush a little less when DV is spoken about…kind of like no one blushes at robbery.

  5. […] clubs and exclusive restaurants, a Christmas party with an open bar, a Jimmy Buffett concert, domestic violence awareness events, and on road trips to friends’ houses. I have watched rated R movies from […]

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