Local nonprofit hosts candlelight walk honoring survivors of domestic violence

People holding candles to honor victims of abuse listen to a domestic violence survivor share her story. October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Courtney Denning)

Dozens of people gathered for a candlelight walk on Thursday, Oct. 6 in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The event was hosted by The Refuge Utah, an organization that has been dedicated to helping survivors of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and stalking since 1984. 

The walk was just under a mile, starting with speakers giving addresses at the Provo Historic Courthouse, and ending with live music and refreshments at Pioneer Park on Center Street. 

BYU student Zelle Harris said that she was surprised to see how large the support for this event was.

“It means so much to gather and show support for each other,” Harris said. “Everyone is so brave and generous to share their stories.”

Anna Wilds works for The Refuge Utah and said that she was there to raise awareness about the issue.

“The early signs can be missed really easily,” Wilds said. “It’s not until things have escalated and gotten violent that people realize that they’re in a bad situation, and at that point it’s really hard to get out.”

The Refuge Utah executive director Ashlee Taylor said that the first step to catching these warning signs is to recognize that domestic violence goes beyond physical abuse.

“It can include emotional, mental and financial abuse,” Taylor said. “Any of those can take a toll and cause trauma.”

She works with the nonprofit organization to provide victims with emergency shelter, therapy, safety plans and advocacy. She said that abuse could happen to anyone at any time, and her mission is to provide them help and hope.

Kimmi Wolf, the communications director for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said that the biggest barrier to ending domestic violence is people’s preconceived notions of what abuse looks like and who it affects.

Wolf said that people tend to think that this abuse doesn’t happen in their communities, especially people in Utah.

“Domestic violence, it could be so subtle,” Wolf said. “Sometimes these types of relationships look so perfect from the outside looking in, and that’s a carefully crafted persona.”

Wolf said that these assumptions can cause serious harm to the victims of abuse that hear them. She said that people sometimes dismiss instances of abuse because it occurred in a “bad neighborhood” or are shocked when they hear of abuse because they previously thought highly of the abuser. These habits can signal that they will not be receptive to a victim’s needs.

“We want to be prepared to not just blurt out those types of things,” she said. “You don’t know where those words are going to fall.”

Wolf said that friends and family of the victims need to make sure that they are not adding additional burden. She said that the most important step to helping someone in an abusive relationship is to listen and trust what they say when they say it the first time.

“Every victim of domestic violence is their own expert in their situation because no situation is the same,” she said.

Wolf also said that the response to these situations will vary greatly depending on where it occurs and the resources available in that area. Wolf said she hopes that more communities can continue to provide support to victims, especially ones in rural areas, which typically lack the funding of larger cities’ programs.

“It’s always the choice of the perpetrator,” Wolf said. “No one deserves this.”

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