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Vigil honors victims of abuse

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On Tuesday, October 8, Empowerhouse, the Stafford Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and Victim-Witness Assistance Program held a Candlelight Vigil at the Stafford Courthouse to encourage active personal and public involvement in ending domestic violence.

The glow of about a hundred candles and the pink tint of the setting sun illuminated the faces of those gathered outside the Stafford County Courthouse on Tuesday to honor and commemorate victims of domestic violence at Empowerhouse’s 23rd annual Candlelight Vigil.

“One in every four women will experience physical violence at the hands of their intimate partners,” were the sobering opening words from Kathy Anderson, the director of Empowerhouse.

Photos by Reza A. Marvashti/The Free Lance-Star

Empowerhouse is a nonprofit program dedicated to serving the Fredericksburg area by providing shelter, resources and help to survivors of domestic violence.

The candlelight vigil was one of Empowerhouse’s many activities planned for October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Eric Olsen, the commonwealth’s attorney, addressed the crowd about the difficulties of prosecuting abusers, and encouraged people to refrain from judging those affected by abuse.

“We have not walked in their shoes,” Olsen said. “If we can’t do anything else, we can at least let them know that they deserve better.”

“We as a community need to reach out and let them know that there is hope and support,” added Stafford County Sheriff Charlie Jett.

He commended the victims who were willing to speak out for their courage and for serving as “a beacon of hope and light for others.”

Three survivors of domestic violence braved the podium to share their stories with the crowd.

Sylvia was married for 28 years to her abusive husband, with whom she had five children.

“I didn’t realize it was abuse—I know better now,” she said. “I felt powerless to do anything.”

Since her husband was in the military and they moved frequently, Sylvia found it difficult to become close enough to anyone to ask for help.

When she finally received support from Empowerhouse, she was able to turn her life around.

“There is life after abuse,” she said. “And I can tell you, it is a good life.”

Debbie shared the story of her abusive relationship that nearly led her to take her own life.

“I am alive now because of these resources,” Debbie said.

Following these personal stories, Stafford County Deputy Deuntay Diggs accompanied the candle lighting ceremony by singing “Redeemed,” a song that declares, “I’ll shake off these heavy chains.”

In closing, Martha Jones, a survivor still in the midst of legal battle with her ex-husband, read an emotional poem she wrote entitled “Dear Abuser.” Jones was the only speaker who gave her last name.

“The speakers were so moving.” said Terri Sorensen, a Stafford resident in attendance at the vigil. “Every time I hear a survivor it’s just so hard to believe that they lived through that and lived with that on a daily basis.”

“I hope [the vigil] did justice to the honor and the memory of all those who are survivors, who are currently in a domestic violence situation, or who were lost at the hands of their abusers,” said Susan Sigmon, a court advocate for Empowerhouse who planned the event.

Empowerhouse was formerly known at the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence. For more information, visit rcdv.com.

Bridget Balch: 540/374-5417

bbalch@freelancestar.com

 

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