COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In observance of this, domestic violence organizations Hope Harbour and Domestic Violence Roundtable Inc. (DVR) held a demonstration walk and candlelight vigil ceremony, respectively, in Columbus on Tuesday. The walk began at Country’s On Broad and ended at Woodruff Riverfront Park where the ceremony was held.

Hope Harbour Executive Director Lindsey Reis said that her organization holds the walk every year, except that it skipped two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. At 5:30 p.m., just before the walk began, she estimated that there were 30 to 50 people present.

“We hold it to honor victims or survivors of domestic violence,” she said. “And then we hold it to remember victims who lost their lives to domestic violence and also to raise awareness that we are here and that services are provided and that people can get help.”

Reis said that if anyone was in a domestic violence situation, they could call Hope Harbour’s crisis line at (706) 324-3850.

A few motorcyclists from motorcycle group Blue Knights Georgia Chapter 5 were present to lead the way of the walk, along with a couple of police in police cars. Their president, Ricky Weeks, said that most of his group’s members were retired from law enforcement, so they were experienced in dealing with domestic violence.

Assistant Chief Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick of the Columbus Police Department said she used to be a board member with Hope Harbour.

“I’m still a board member for the DVR and just getting the word out about domestic violence, telling people it’s not a silent crime anymore, that there are very much a lot of avenues and resources out here that we can utilize to help them get out of their situations,” she said.

As the crowd walked down Broadway and turned onto 10th Street, they sometimes chanted, “Stop the silence, end the violence.”

Above, Michael Newkirk, left, and Marcia Denson, right, hold photos of murder victim Destinee Virgin.

The keynote speaker at the vigil was Judge Joe C. Bishop, formerly of the Pataula Judicial Circuit of Georgia, who is now the American Rescue Plan presiding judge in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, according to DVR Vice Chairperson YuLanda Fryer. He shared various facts about domestic violence. One of them was that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.

“Women are more likely to be killed by their partner with a firearm than in all other means combined,” he said. “And lastly — and this, I think, is important for folks in domestic violence shelters, folks that are counselors and for judges — and that is that the victims had tried to leave before they were killed. The judicial perspective here is that victims go back into abusive, violent relationships. They do it for any number of reasons.”

Bishop said the reasons people return to abusive relationships may include the need of money, the desire to protect their children, loving their abusers and feeling what they have no better place to go to.

“But from a judge’s perspective, it doesn’t matter why,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how often. It only matters that as a judge, I realize that it will happen. They will go back, and I should not stigmatize or revictimize the weak and the powerless by saying, by hinting, by intimating that the next case of domestic violence will not be heard with patience, fairness and even handedness.

Bishop said that relatively few domestic violence survivors ever see a judge and that when they do, “judges often offer very little assistance.”

He argued that religious communities need to be more proactive in helping their members escape domestic violence situations, especially since these communities are often aware that their members are being abused.

Lt. Antoinette Holloway of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office shared her personal survivor story at the vigil. 

Above, domestic violence survivor Lt. Antoinette Holloway speaks at the podium.

“And for me, one thing I can always remember even as a child, ever since I was four years old, I was separated from my mom,” she said. “We were here in Columbus. At one point, my dad was in the military. He met her, they got married, and they moved to Kentucky, this little town called Bardstown, Kentucky.”

Holloway said her parents constantly fought with each other and argued. Her father would get drunk and often threaten to kill someone. Eventually, he took Holloway and her brother to Columbus, Ohio.

“So we moved to Ohio, and the next thing I knew, I didn’t see my dad anymore,” she said. “I found out later he was in prison.”

Her great-grandmother raised Holloway and her brother, Holloway said. She stated that domestic violence is a cycle. When children see it happening, she said, it sticks to them “like glue.”

“As I lived in Ohio, I had more challenges than just the domestic,” she said. “I also suffered the sexual at four years old all the way till I was at the age of eight years old. I had to endure the babysitter’s husband. And every time she walked in on him, he beat her down and told her don’t she ever walk in on him.”

Holloway said she coped with this violence by telling herself every day that she didn’t matter.

“They do [matter],” she said. “’They’ was my grandmother, my brother, because he told me if I told, he would kill me. I thought about telling. So what did he do? He put us in the middle of the living room, got his rifle, had a scope on it, and he would dry fire it and look directly at me to remind me, ‘If you ever tell on me, this is what will happen to your brother and your grandmother.”

As Holloway got older, she found herself seeking a father figure in her relationships. She said that as she was attending Carver High School, she met a soldier who could tell she was broken inside. She had few family connections in the area at the time.

The soldier seemed to care about Holloway and asked her to marry him, she said. But Holloway expressed that she wanted to go to college. She was discouraged from attending college, ended up marrying the solider, and moved with him to Germany. That was when he started to seriously abuse her.

“That very first night, I slept on the floor because I got kicked out of my bed,” she said. “I laid in front of the hotel room door asleep, then he tried to make up with me the next day. He would try to make up with me the next day, and it started becoming a cycle after that.”

Later in the relationship, Holloway’s husband didn’t allow her to work or have friends. He bought a car with a stick shift, which Holloway didn’t know how to drive.

“He wanted me to depend solely on him,” she said. “If I wouldn’t be intimate, I would wake up being dragged across the carpet and trying to protect my face because he was just swinging in my face, trying to just beat me any way he could. He had combat boots on. This man would kick me in my ribs. He kicked me in my legs. I was all bruised up, and I would just look at myself in the mirror, and I just felt like I couldn’t tell anybody about it. So I endured it.”

Holloway ended up having a son with her husband, who didn’t seem interested in abusing him.

She said her husband would physically abuse her after work after having a bad day.

“He started getting to the point where he would choke me out where I would go unconscious,” she said. “It was violence all the time where he would even point in my face and keep pointing, and if I looked at him while he was pointing at me, he would take his finger and jab it in my eye, and then I would have the blood hemorrhages in my eyes all the time.”

Holloway said that one day, she decided to fight back using a blade. She said that at first, she thought the blood on her gown was her own before she realized it was her husband’s.

“Police came,” she said. “They looked at him. They looked at me. And I’ll never forget those words, ‘Sir, do you want to press charges?’ That was a wakeup call for me.”

Holloway said her husband chose not to press charges. His reasoning, she said, was that he was on his way to prison and that if Holloway was also incarcerated, neither of them could raise their son. This event was the final straw for Holloway. She said she sold what she had and left her husband for good.

Holloway received counseling at Pastoral Institute. In 2015, she earned a bachelor’s degree. She gave credit to God for helping her to persevere.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t matter,” she said. “You matter. You are worthy of love. You deserve the respect. I know I deserve it. God has… He has just opened so many doors for me, and I am so thankful for that, and I’m going to keep pushing forward.”

Above, vigil attendees stand with lit candles that represent lives lost to domestic violence-related crimes.

During the candlelight portion of the event, each time the name of someone who had died from a domestic violence-related crime was called out, the person holding the strip of paper with that name would light his or her candle. The names were compiled by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence in collaboration with the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.