Ten red silhouettes stood silent and virtually alone in a Polk County court room to bear witness to the devastation caused by domestic violence. Mourners included family members, victim advocates and some cops.
Those silhouettes spoke volumes without saying a word. They told how they were all killed in Polk County by an intimate partner or spouse. They spoke of how they wanted not to have died in vain. They shouted that something had to be done to keep their numbers from growing.
They may have been heard, if only by the few that dropped memorial blood-red carnations at their feet.
They were brought to the Polk County Courthouse by victim advocates who want their silent screams to be heard by all. Advocates like Silent Witness Memorial organizer Sherrie Schwab who directs the Peace River Center Victim Services, the Polk Sheriff’s Department’s Domestic Abuse unit leader Sgt. Shawn Hoobin, Clerk of the Circuit Court Stacey Butterfield and Domestic Victim Advocate Jaleesa Privott all want their voices to be heard by anyone who is a victim of domestic violence, so it can be stopped.
Their silent screams were heard most when domestic violence victim Kathy Haley of Bartow spoke for them. She tearfully retold her own personal story which, in many was ways the same story, they all told. Haley just happened to live to tell her own story.
In 1992, Haley was attacked by her husband in her driveway. She was shot multiple times and watched in pain and near death as he took his own life. Her ordeal left her in a wheelchair, but her courage made her stand tall on Monday.
“I could be one of these, “she said pointing at the silhouettes. “But I am a voice for them.
“It isn’t easy to tell,” she said. “But someone has to speak out now. We have to stop domestic violence.”
According to the FDLE, there were 5,634 domestic violence offenses last year in Polk, Highlands and Hardee Counties combined, most of which were in Polk County. Seventeen were murders, 15 were in Polk County. Polk County has the highest incidence of domestic violence of all the Bay Area counties.
To combat this epidemic, the Peace River Center and Polk Sheriff’s Department have partnered in a new program, according to Hoobin. The InVEST project, he explained, is to address potentially lethal cases with intense follow-up investigation and services to victims as well as accountability to the abusers.
Butterfield told the sparse crowd that the clerk’s office also has a full time staff of advocates who can assist victims in obtaining an injunction form protection against domestic violence, once called a restraining order. “This applies if you are afraid you may be harmed,” she explained, adding her advocates would walk victims through the process and see that orders for protection were issued as quickly as possible. She also said her office could assist in referrals to the Peace River Center if shelter is required.
The emotional memorial service concluded with family members or participants placing a flower at the feet of each silhouette in memory of a specific victim or for all victims of domestic violence. Butterfield placed hers in memory of Bea Reed, a Polk County Sheriff’s Department leader who was killed by her estranged husband. In a moving tribute, Bartow Police Officer D. Sudhoff presented his flower to Haley as a tribute to her courage in speaking out for victims.
The PRC offers two domestic violence shelters, a 24-hour crisis line and a rape recovery and resource center.
Advocates explained that most women find their way to shelters when referred by law enforcement after they’ve been called, but the Clerk’s office can also help a victim find shelter, as can the local fire and police departments. The Peace River Center can be contacted at 863-413-2708 or the 24-hour domestic abuse hotline is 863-413-2700.