Joined by public officials and members of the community, the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a Peace Walk in Hecker on Thursday night.
Though the night was cool and rainy, a small crowd filed into the Hecker Community Park pavilion to show their support for those in the community who have been affected by domestic violence.
The evening included guest speakers, the presentation of the Peacekeeper Award, a balloon release and songs by the St. Augustine Choir.
Darlene Jones, executive director of the Violence Prevention Center, told attendees about the history of the center and its importance to the community.
“It opened originally as a shelter for women and children to flee from domestic violence,” she said. “Over the years, we figured out we needed much more than a shelter.”
Jones said they realized they needed counseling and a legal advocacy program, along with a prevention and education program.
“Domestic violence has been such a secret over the years, but it’s definitely happening,” Jones said.
She brought up the incident with NFL player Ray Rice, who was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault on his fiancée (now wife) earlier this year.
“Everybody was so appalled by what he did, but that wasn’t such a shocker to those of us who provide services to victims,” Jones said. “We see incidents like that all the time. It’s out there.”
The guest speaker for the evening was Captain Joe Kollins, District 11 Commander of the Illinois State Police.
Kollins talked about how domestic violence affects a huge range of people and doesn’t discriminate based on race, age, gender or sexual orientation.
“Most domestic violence takes place behind closed doors and is not brought out into the daylight,” he said. “Too often, it’s never reported to law enforcement.”
He cited statistics, including that 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault every year.
“The pathway to recovery often takes years and can lead to depression and suicide,” he said. “We need to be champions of
change and bring this issue to the public with events like this.”
As a part of the event, the Violence Prevention Center honored retiring Monroe County Sheriff Dan Kelley for his years of service with the Peacekeeper Award.
Liz Mudd, Monroe County outreach advocate for the center, presented the award.
“This award was developed to acknowledge those in our community who work diligently toward the safety of domestic violence survivors and work toward a better tomorrow,” she said.
Mudd talked about Kelley’s 40 years in law enforcement.
“Over the years I have worked as a Monroe County advocate, I have had many opportunities to speak with the sheriff about how laws have changed and progressed, services have evolved, and how the severity of cases has changed,” she said. “We want to thank him for all he’s done for us and for domestic violence victims in Monroe County.”
Kelley said when he started in law enforcement, there was no such thing as domestic violence.
“It’s not that it wasn’t happening, but there was no law,” Kelley said. “But over the years, we’ve been able to put some teeth into this law. People understand now that this is not acceptable.”
The last speaker of the evening was Kay Clements, who shared a personal story on how domestic violence has affected her.
Clements’ oldest daughter was shot and killed 22 years ago, at the age of 20, by her abusive boyfriend.
“I still remember that night like it was yesterday,” she said. “The pain lessens a little, but not much. As a parent, you always think you’ll be able to keep your children safe, but sometimes you can’t.”
She recounted the story of how her whole life changed that day, and her family’s decision to make a difference so her daughter did not die in vain.
“I started talking in high schools, trying to educate teenagers on dating violence and things to look for,” Clements said. “Making people aware was something I felt had to be done. It’s come a long way since her death. It takes everyone in our communities to work toward a common goal.”
Attendees wrapped up the evening with a balloon release: 15 white balloons symbolizing the number of years the Violence Prevention Center has been in the county, and one purple balloon for victims who have lost their lives to domestic violence.
To learn more about the Violence Prevention Center, visit their website at www.vpcswi.org.