WINCHESTER — The Laurel Center has been holding its annual candlelight vigil for domestic violence victims for 30 years now, but it hasn’t got any easier to hear the stories shared by survivors.

Take Catherine, for example, who told a crowd of more than 100 people outside the Joint Judicial Center in downtown Winchester Thursday night about the horrors she endured while in a relationship with a cruel, controlling boyfriend.

“One day I got a fleeting thought,” Catherine said. “If I were to jump onto the highway, I could get out of this relationship.”

Or Brian, whose emotionally abusive father was never satisfied with anything less than perfection.

“It got to the point where I tried doing everything perfect to please him so I wouldn’t have to hear about it later, so my mom wouldn’t have to hear about it,” Brian said. “He pestered me to become the perfect kid and it took away my childhood.”

Or Cynthia, whose family fled to Virginia to escape her drug-addicted father’s physical abuse.

“I would get hit for the littlest things like crying or not finishing the food on my plate,” Cynthia said. “I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I did not get my dad’s approval on anything.”

Faith Power, executive director of The Laurel Center, told those who gathered in the darkness Thursday that “this candlelight vigil is a way for us to remember those who have lost their lives to domestic and intimate-partner violence, and to honor those who are survivors of violence.”

“I wish we didn’t have events like this,” Winchester Mayor David Smith said, “because that would tell us we didn’t have domestic violence.”

The Laurel Center on North Cameron Street is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter and support services for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Over the past year, it offered temporary housing to 121 women and children who sought protection from their abusers.

Jennifer Smith, president of the center’s board of directors, said those clients were represented at Thursday’s vigil with the placement of 121 luminaries at the entrance to the Joint Judicial Center.

“The luminaries pay tribute to the strength and courage of those who are determined to live violence free,” Smith said.

“Domestic violence tears the very fabric of the community,” Power said. “Children witnessing violence against their parents can find it difficult to trust adults in the future. These children have higher levels of anxiety, anger, sleep disorders, hostility, disobedience and [emotional] withdrawal. ... Adult victims suffer from a host of longterm health problems like heart disease, chronic pain, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which places a burden on our already burdened health system.

“It can also negatively effect a company’s bottom line as victims of abuse and the companies they work for lose work days to domestic abuse,” Power continued. “The aggressor may show up and harass their children and their teachers at school, or the victim and their colleagues at work. This puts people who have no direct link to the family’s private issue in harm’s way.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

More than 10 million adults in the United States experience domestic violence each year. On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive over 19,000 calls.

In Virginia, 33.6% of women and 28.6% of men experience intimate-partner violence, rape and/or stalking in their lifetimes.

Nationally, one in four women and one in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during his or her lifetime. In 2018, intimate-partner violence accounted for 20% of all violent crime in the U.S.

From 2016 through 2018, the number of intimate-partner violence victimizations in the U.S. increased 42%.

The Laurel Center is recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month with various events throughout October. Among them are a special presentation from domestic violence survivor Julie Donaldson, senior vice president of media and content for the Washington Football Team, speaking at a free gathering from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Brandt Student Center at Shenandoah University, and Family Drive-In Movie Night from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Family Drive-In near Stephens City.

For more information about The Laurel Center and events associated with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, visit thelaurelcenter.org.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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