Vigil held for domestic violence victims, survivors
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The victims and survivors of domestic violence were honored Tuesday in downtown Newnan at a candlelight vigil on the steps of the 1904 courthouse.
The vigil was the first event of the newly-formed Coweta County Domestic Violence Task Force.
It was held to 'bring public awareness to domestic violence as well as to honor the victims and help support the survivors,' said Melissa Sizemore, victim witness advocate for the Coweta Solicitor's Office and one of the organizers of the task force and the vigil.
Arrayed on the steps were wooden cutouts representing Cowetans who lost their lives to domestic violence in the past five years: Theresa Jean Hood, 53; John Britt Hall, 37; Willie Joshua Pace, 37; Cathy Lorraine McNaughton, 54; and Austin Edwards, 5 weeks.
There was no cutout for Tasha Lynn Buchan, 27, who died in November 2012; her boyfriend, Rodolfo Chacon Reyes, goes to trial in the case on Nov. 8.
During the vigil, the names were read of the dozens of Georgia residents - women, men, children, and unborn babies - who have lost their lives to domestic violence in 2013 alone.
A bell was rung after each name was read.
Coweta County Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant, who also served many years as a magistrate judge, was the keynote speaker at the event. Also speaking were two local women, accompanied by their children, who endured violence at the hands of their husbands and were able to escape from it and thrive.
Moments before the candles were lit, balloons were released by the children of the women who spoke.
Being a victim of violence at the hands of the person who is supposed to love you is embarrassing, said one woman. 'You don't want to tell people… you don't want to tell your children.'
And that's a big part of the problem. 'It's not spoken about,' Sizemore said. 'That is what we want to do, is bring more awareness. So many people are still of the mindset that it just needs to stay behind those four walls, it is a family matter… nobody needs to get involved,' she said. 'We need to provide the support for the victims.' Sometimes, 'it's almost impossible for them to get out. There are just so many barriers that they hit [when they try].'
Helping women - and men - navigate those barriers is a main goal of the new task force.
Sizemore said they have really seen an increase in domestic violence cases in the past few years. Coweta used to have a domestic violence task force, but it faded away. Sizemore said she was talking with her boss, Coweta County Solicitor Sandy Wisenbaker, and they decided something needed to be done.
'We decided that we would start it up, primarily to get the resources to people so when these victims come to us we can assist them in the full capacity, instead of me handling one aspect of it and telling the women you need to call another five people to find what you need,' she said.
Many times, women who are being abused by their husbands feel trapped because they don't work and their husbands won't allow access to bank accounts or other resources. 'They have no money and they have children. They have to have a roof over their kids' heads, and food on the table … so they feel better to stay in the household,' she said.
Coweta's Community Welcome House is a domestic violence shelter that can provide a safe haven for those women and children.
There has also been an increase in male victims of domestic violence. In many cases, 'the men are hesitant to come forward because it is an embarrassment to them,' she said. 'More and more are starting to come forward. I don't know if it is happening more often or men are just deciding 'I can't do this anymore' or 'things are getting out of control and I need to put a stop to it now,'' Sizemore said.
The task force will have its first official meeting on Friday, and all interested members of the public are invited to attend.
Hopes are to hold the vigil every October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Hopes are to also do resource fairs and symposiums, as well as to assist victims with resources.
Friday's meeting will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Coweta County Justice Center's Cranford Hall.
For more information about the Domestic Violence Task Force, Sizemore may be contacted at 770-714-0402.
For more information about the Community Welcome House or to get help, visit www. CommunityWelcomeHouse.org or call 770-304-0966.
Wooden cutouts represent the Cowetans who have lost their lives to domestic violence over the past five years.