Eighty-six candles flickered on the red brick walkway in the center of Court Square Park, one for each victim of deadly domestic violence in the Charlottesville area in the past 43 years.
The Shelter for Help in Emergency, a domestic violence shelter that serves Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson counties, lit the candles Monday evening in an annual vigil to honor and remember those who have experienced domestic violence.
“We want to offer the space to remember those who have lost their lives to domestic violence. It’s a way of bringing attention to this issue,” said SHE fundraising and development coordinator Sarah Ellis. “This is a potentially fatal form of violence.”
The vigil is traditionally on the first Monday in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Around 50 people attended the event, including the Charlottesville Women’s Choir, a representative from the UVa police department, and members of the community.
Some attendees read poems. The shelter’s executive director read the names of those who had died from domestic violence. Then there was a moment of silence.
“It’s an incredible event for everybody. It’s just unbelievable,” said shelter board member Carol Carder.
The organization hopes that the vigil and other events throughout the month can raise awareness as to what domestic violence is and who it affects. Approximately one in four women and one in seven men experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
“It could be your child’s kindergarten teacher, it could be the cashier at the grocery store, it could be the local police officer,” Ellis said.
People often assume that it’s easy for someone to leave their abuser, but there are a number of reasons why it’s not always true.
“If you have a home together, if you have children together, you can’t just pack up your bags and leave,” Ellis said.
Trying to leave an abuser is often the most dangerous point in the relationship, Ellis said, noting that it can even turn deadly.
Abusers are often charismatic, said SHE case manager Amanda Taylor.
“One of the most common things we hear from family or friends is, ‘I would never think they would do that,’” Taylor said. “If you automatically don’t believe someone because you think, ‘I’ve met this person, they’re really charming,’ that can be devastating.”
One of the most important things a person can do to support a survivor is to believe them, Taylor said.
Domestic violence leaves scars that sometimes cannot be seen from attacks that aren’t physical.
“It includes emotional and financial abuse as well,” said Madison Furgurson, a social worker at UVa who worked at SHE for two years.
Emotional abuse encompasses a range of behavior, from bullying to manipulation to intimidation. Financial abuse happens when an abuser limits a person’s access to finances.
Though Taylor said things have improved during her 13 years at SHE — people have grown more aware of the issue— the scarcity of affordable housing in Charlottesville and the surrounding area is a growing problem. Sometimes the shelter connects people to loved ones who can give them a place to stay, but other times they have to relocate clients to places that are more affordable.
“When I first started, it was fairly easy to get people into housing if they had employment, but ever since COVID, it’s been so much harder,” Taylor said.
Shelter staff note that the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance can connect survivors across the state with resources in a specific area. People can support SHE and other shelters by volunteering or making donations.