‘Burg sheds light on domestic violence

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October is a month that celebrates and raises awareness for women who are going through tough times, but breast cancer is not the only thing being addressed. This month is also intended for people who have been victims or survivors of domestic abuse. The purple ribbon, provoking us to remember loved ones and women around the world who have experienced abuse, symbolizes domestic violence awareness.

The City of Hattiesburg will participate in raising awareness with events throughout the month. At the beginning of the month, a 5k Run/One-Mile Walk mobilized about 100 people in downtown Hattiesburg. The run, themed “It May Hurt to Walk Away,” is the first 5k in Hattiesburg to recognize domestic violence. Funds were raised for the city’s Domestic Abuse Family Shelter (DAFS).

Sara Holifield, executive director of Domestic Abuse Family Shelters in Laurel and Hattiesburg, said it is important for women to know they have a place to go if they are ready to get out of the cycle of abuse.

“For some women, abuse is all they know,” Holifield said. “They may have even grown up in an abusive situation. We have some women that turn to our shelters repeatedly because abuse is a cycle and it is hard to get out of, but we have plenty of success stories and all the women show substantial change after staying with us.”

These homes that provide a safe haven for abuse survivors do more than protect. The family shelters offer a chance at new life and mending broken self-esteems.

“The two shelters in Laurel and Hattiesburg service 11 counties,” Holifield said. “We take in victims and help them get jobs, provide counseling and connect them with community service opportunities. We transport them wherever they need to go if they don’t have a car and show them that they can be self-sustaining.” Domestic abuse does not only injure and impact a woman or man. It can affect an entire family and even the community. Lieutenant Latosha Mitchell from the Hattiesburg Police Department Domestic Violence Unit sees firsthand domestic conflicts in the Hattiesburg area.

“As an officer, I see the hurt families have,” Mitchell said. “I actually go from the calls to the follow-ups and to the courses. It is important to me to bring awareness to domestic violence so we don’t have so many cases and so many broken homes and families.”

Domestic violence is not restricted to married couples or adults. Students at The University of Southern Mississippi face their own risks of abusive relationships.

“Abuse is not always physical,” said Captain Lisa Carter, a special operations commander for the University Police Department. “A relationship can consist of emotional abuse, where someone is constantly talking down to you. It can be psychological and controlling, and then there is sexual/physical abuse.”

There are red flags that young women can look for to prevent abuse in their relationships.

“Some signs that an intimate partner is abusive is excessive control, constantly texting asking where you are or who you are with, stalking you, isolating you from your friends and family or manipulating you into thinking everything is your fault,” Carter said.

“If someone reports domestic violence to UPD, we are obligated to investigate it whether it happened on or off campus.”

Certain resources are available to victims of abuse on the USM campus like the counseling center, the Title IX office, which handles affirmative action, and the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention. After reporting abuse, UPD will provide escorts to and from classes to avoid contact with the abuser and allow the victim to transfer class sections if shared by the two parties.

Mayoral assistant Valerie Arnold said that domestic violence is something that should be proactively focused on year-round.

“There are so many people who are totally unaware of how painful the problem of domestic violence is, especially to the victims,” Arnold said. “It is important to raise awareness not only in the month of October, but year-round, because it is something that continually happens.”

According to PBS, it is often hard to leave an abuser. Some people stay with the hope that the other person will change, and others feel trapped. Some feel guilty. The myth is that a person suffering abuse has no way out, but the fact remains that abuse of any kind—sexual, physical or emotional—is damaging and dangerous. If you are suffering from an abusive relationship, please call 911 and take the first steps in saving your own life. It is not easy, but it gets better.