On Thursday evening, community members gathered at Ardmore’s Central Park to honor the victims and survivors of domestic violence. Several community organizations were also on hand to provide information about the resources they provide for those currently in a violent relationship that may feel like they are trapped in the situation.
Four speakers who either gave information about domestic violence or told stories about their own experiences also attended. A common call to action ran through each of the speeches, and that was to continue talking about the problem, to never be afraid to reach out for help, and to reach out to those you think may be a victim.
First to speak was Family Shelter Director Kathy Manning, who shared information about domestic violence in our area and provided statistics to illustrate the problem.
“The state of Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation in the number of women killed by men,” Manning said. “In Oklahoma, one in three women and one in five men will experience violence by a domestic partner.”
She ended by asking everyone not to ignore the problem because it does not go away on its own and by telling people to listen more and judge less.
Next to speak was Ari James, the chairperson for the Carter County Domestic Violence Task Force. He reminded everyone that domestic violence does not necessarily have any certain “look.” It isn’t always bruises and cuts, it may look like being tired and/or skipping meals.
“Being aware of what’s going on with your children, your friends, your family members and your coworkers is so important,” James said.
He then pointed out how vital it can be to have conversations with anyone you think may be experiencing the problem.
The most powerful speaker, however, came last — Tara Woodlee founder of Ashleigh’s Patience Project and President of the Board of Directors of Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. She told the story of how her daughter Ashleigh and her unborn granddaughter were murdered by her daughter’s former fiancé.
Tara herself was a victim of domestic violence, and she didn’t think that Ashleigh would fall into the same situation because Ashleigh witnessed the violence inflicted on her mother at the hands of her biological father. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case.
She was in a relationship with an abusive man and the severity of the abuse escalated rapidly. After filing multiple restraining orders, pressing charges and hiding at a friend’s house, he continued to harass and threaten her. Finally, Ashleigh formed a plan to head to a shelter in Texas without telling anyone where she was going. He found her before she could make that move.
After Ashleigh’s death, Woodlee decided to never be quiet about the issue again.
“So for six years, that’s what I’ve been doing,” Woodlee said. “I speak out, I tell her story. I tell my own story, and I help victims get into shelters.”
After the candles were lit and a moment of silence was observed to remember the victims of domestic violence, Ari James closed the evening with another powerful speech.
“This is not a time to be quiet,” James said. “It is not a time to ignore the stories you’ve heard, the resources that you’ve learned about and the things that you know about the people around you. Looking at those lights shining earlier, and thinking about the people that we’ve lost, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to think about the things that we have seen, the things that we’ve heard about, or the things that we might go into, none of it’s easy. But what is easy is picking up the phone, and sending a text message saying, ‘hey, how are you’ or ‘hey, I’m here if you need to talk.’ Those things are easy. We do it every day. So keep doing it.”
The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers a 24/7 crisis hotline that will help victims of domestic violence get out of their situation. The crisis hotline number is 580-226-6424.