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‘Speak Their Names’ event remembers the lives of Louisvillians lost to domestic violence

11 chairs bearing the names of victims of domestic violence at Jefferson Square Park at the 'Speak Their Names' event.
Divya Karthikeyan
Eleven chairs bearing the names of victims of domestic violence at Jefferson Square Park at the 'Speak Their Names' event.

At Jefferson Square Park, families laid white roses on 11 chairs arranged in a semicircle, bearing the names of lives lost to domestic violence in Louisville. Each chair represented a mother, daughter, aunt or sister whose life was cut short by intimate-partner violence this year.

The Center for Women and Families in Louisville brought families of the 11 victims together to remember their loved ones at the remembrance event “Speak Their Names.”

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin, the president of The Center for Women and Families said it was time to treat domestic violence as a public health problem, and not as a private matter.

She said many acts of violence like mass shootings and robberies are committed by people who were first exposed to violence in their own homes.

“After it devastates immediate family and friends of the victims, the general community sees the effects of domestic violence every day,” she said.

Almost half of Kentucky women and around 36% of men in the state say they have experienced intimate partner violence or threat of it in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And Kentucky has the second highest rate of domestic violence in the United States, according to the 2023 world population review data.

South Louisville resident Dawn, who had survived 10 years of domestic violence by her partner and has two children, watched families walk up to leave a flower on each chair, which she described as “heartbreaking.” LPM is not using her full name because she is a survivor of domestic violence.

“I personally did lose a friend last year to domestic violence. And that void can never be filled,” she said.

She says shame can stop a victim from asking for help, and for her, it’s family support that made sure she didn’t suffer in silence.

“My family just wanted me to be safe no matter what the case was and it took me a long time to learn that and get it,” she said.

Financial insecurity can be a major factor in preventing victims from leaving abusive relationships. But Dawn said it’s not the only factor. She was the breadwinner of her household, raising two kids, and still found it hard to leave the situation. “It's not just one set thing that causes all of this to spiral out, it happens over time. And you usually don't see it coming,” she said.

Wessels-Martin said it’s important to look out for warning signs like hearing someone being harmed, visible bruises, appearing to be frightened by their abuser's temper, being afraid to disagree with a partner or turning down invitations to spend time with family and friends.

And if a victim opens up with their experience, she said it’s important to listen to them.

“Don't judge and don't question, just listen. Believe them when they tell you they have survived violence. Get them resources. Have conversations with your loved ones about the importance of healthy relationships,” she said.

If you or someone you know is or could be experiencing physical, financial, emotional, and/or verbal abuse in their relationships, help is available 24/7 at 1-844-BE-SAFE-1 (1-844-237-2331) and resources are available at The Center for Women and Families.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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