In the state of Georgia, 128 lives have been lost due to domestic violence this past year. Of those 128, three people were from Tift County, said Nancy Bryan, executive director of Ruth’s Cottage and The Patticake House, at Tuesday evening’s candlelight vigil at the Tift County Courthouse for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Bryan told the crowd at the vigil that in Tift County this past year, 290 calls were made to their domestic violence hotline and 93 temporary protection orders were issued. Their agency as a whole, which covers Tift, Irwin, Worth and Turner counties, received 654 calls to their hotline and 175 TPOs were issued this past year.
Bryan said Georgia is in the top 10 for domestic violence and has been for seven of the past 13 years, and this is nothing to be proud of. She reminded the crowd that not only is the month of October a time to educate the public and spread awareness about breast cancer, but it’s also a time to do the same about domestic violence.
Bryan also gave some other statistics, saying 1.3 million women are assaulted by their husband or boyfriend, and one in four women will experience domestic violence.
The Honorable Judge Bill Reinhardt of the Tifton Judicial Circuit was the speaker for the ceremony. He said when looking back in history, it’s shameful how domestic violence was dealt with and viewed. He said he was blessed to have been raised in a home without family violence. He was sheltered from it, and it was something that really wasn’t talked about.
Reinhardt said it was a terrible thing for victims to face on top of reporting it in fear of being hurt or even death, as well as fear of not being able to make it on their own.
He recalled victims of domestic violence who have come through his courtroom asking him not to put their abusers in jail.
“It’s because of education that you get to feel the sense of hopelessness and the feeling of being trapped,” he said. He mentioned that one woman’s husband had been taken to jail for the second or third time for domestic violence. She brought the children to court with her and said that if her husband remained in jail, he wouldn’t be able to work and pay rent, causing her and her children to be out on the street with no place to go. Reinhardt said this creates a dilemma. He noted everyone wants to solve the problem when it comes to domestic violence.
He commented that he remembers his first time seeing the movie “The Burning Bed,” which was about a battered housewife, as well as when the Violence Against Women Act came out. He said TPOs make it easier for victims of family violence, but “we still have to be vigilant.”
Reinhardt also challenged the community to put together a family violence intervention program. He said Tifton is one of five circuits that doesn’t have it. He said citizens have to do it.
“It’s never going to stop until the community demands that it stop,” he said. He said the program is critically important and he’s been asking to get it organized.
Investigator Sgt. Jason Barber of the Tift County Sheriff’s Office was presented with the Above and Beyond Award for all of his hard work and willingness to help handle an issue. He was described as a team player. Reinhardt was presented with the J. Harvey Davis Award for having a genuine and caring heart for those affected by domestic violence.
Also during the ceremony, Deacon Leeann Culbreath with Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church led the prayer. Jodie Spooner, Ruth’s Cottage legal advocate, commented they’re very blessed to have a lot of support in Tifton.
The ceremony concluded with the lighting of the candles and releasing of the purple balloons (59 represented all of the adults who stayed in the local shelter this past year and 43 represented the children who came with them). A domestic violence survivor read an emotional poem, encouraging domestic violence victims that they too can “rise” above what they went through and be survivors and that there is support.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.