Community leaders, advocates, abuse survivors and loved ones attended the 16th Annual Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence in Page Ellington Park on Saturday to raise awareness for domestic violence.
Mayor Daniel Rickenmann began the event by saying that South Carolina is ranked the sixth worst state for domestic violence, and one in every three women and one in every four men are victims of domestic violence.
“The significance of this event is that it gets awareness to everyone about what domestic violence is, but also that there’s places that can support people who are going through domestic violence,” April Sampson, deputy solicitor of the Fifth Circuit, said.
Several local nonprofit organizations also attended and showed their support for survivors of domestic violence, including Sistercare, a service agency for domestic violence survivors in the Midlands.
"I really want everyone to walk away from today to say 'now I can be an advocate and I can be a part of the solution in breaking the cycle of violence,'" Ann Kita, executive director of Sistercare, said.
The Columbia Police Department responded to 636 domestic violence calls this year, according to Chief of Police William Holbrook. However, two-thirds of cases are estimated to be left unreported, so many victims never receive help.
“I think (Columbia citizens) can help by reporting, making sure that people know that there is support, sharing their own stories," Rickenmann said. "At the end of the day, it’s making sure that people know that there are caring souls and there's compassionate souls out there to help.”
Lanelle Durant, a domestic violence survivor who received help from Sistercare, shared her own story of freeing herself from abuse and building a better life for herself.
Durant's husband was a high-ranking bank executive, they lived in a nice neighborhood and they visited church frequently, yet "there was violence in my home and no one knew," she said.
She said she and her family were avid believers in helping people, so when she said she saw childhood pain in her husband, she wanted to help heal him. She also found it hard to leave during the periods her husband was kind and calm.
She said the final straw in their relationship was when he hit her head against the windshield of their car. They divorced. Durant said she struggled to find work for a few months until she was hired as a sales clerk in the Richland Mall.
"That job was all it took for me to learn to believe in myself," she said.
After working a few jobs and increasing her work experience, she began working in the Governor's Office and witnessed the Americans with Disabilities Act pass in Congress. Inspired to make a difference, she said she became a law student and is now a licensed attorney.
“It’s important for society to become aware of (domestic violence),” she said. “I hope it will let women know — who are in an abusive situation — that there is hope and they can get out.”
With university students making up a large part of the Columbia community, student outreach is a goal of the city’s domestic violence awareness.
“Domestic violence sometimes may be mentally, physically, verbally and sexually,” Rickenmann said. “A lot of students have been affected by sexual assault, verbal abuse and alcohol-related incidents, and we just hope that they’ll reach out and not hide it, but make sure that they’re getting the help and understand there are people here who care.”
Durant also warns students and young adults to take early signs of domestic violence seriously in order to prevent dating violence.
"The first time you’re in a relationship and that person puts you down, criticizes you for something, does not say positive things about you or to you, get out. Because it only gets worse," Durant said.
Hannah Cella, first-year law student at USC and president of Reclaim Carolina, participated in the walk and agreed that domestic violence awareness is needed on campus.
“Being there for people who maybe are afraid to talk about it or afraid to stand up for themselves is so important,” Cella said. “I think using your voice for good things like this, especially in our community, is something that we really need to strive for.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.