HOPE holds vigil for victims of domestic violence

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

T-shirts painted in bright colors portrayed the heart-breaking stories of survivors of domestic violence and hung on lines that surrounded the pavilion at Morton Park Thursday night.
Whether they were students, residents or from out of town, people braved the cold to show their support for the annual Housing, Outreach, Prevention and Education of East Central Illinois vigil.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” said Angie Hunt, the Charleston-based program director of HOPE. “It also goes through my head that I’m lucky that I wasn’t one of them I’m very lucky that I’m here today.”

This was the first year the names of those who were murdered by their abusers in areas in Coles County and the six surrounding counties were read aloud, Hunt said.

As the names were read, people held up candles and some held hands while they listened in silence.

“That was particularly hard,” Hunt said referring to the names that were read. “We had to keep reading these stories, just these horrific stories of the way women were treated, and it’s just devastating.”

Before the candles were passed out, a band performed several songs and speakers shared their stories of survival.

Steve Dennis, a former Mattoon resident who currently lives in Texas, held up a poster filled with pictures of his sister, Diane Kay Dennis.

She was murdered by her husband in 1985, and Dennis said he and his relatives never knew she was being abused.

Darla Elliot said she was Diane’s best friend since sophomore year of high school and said Diane never discussed the marriage and acted like everything was perfect.

“The night she was killed, I was supposed to go over there,” Elliot said. “I never made it over…and it still makes me angry. Not that I could have prevented it, but maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”

Though it has been over 30 years, Dennis and Elliot said they have not forgotten Diane and still feel her presence around them.

Hunt said seeing the T-shirts that survivors created, hearing the stories and listening to the names of those who passed is a powerful thing.

“It will be hard to sleep (the next) couple of nights,” Hunt said.

Hunt said there are many ways to help the organization as well as those who may be involved in a domestic abuse relationship.

“Pay attention. If you think that someone is in an abusive relationship, reach out to them. There are very important things to say too such as “I believe you,” “This is only going to get worse” and “I am here for you when you leave.”

“Leaving is the most dangerous time,” Hunt said regarding victims who decide to leave an abusive relationship. “You want to refrain from things like ‘Why won’t you leave?’ (or) ‘Why do you stay?’ because that implies that the victim is at fault.”

Hunt also said it was important to not say anything negative about the potential abuser because that can cause more harm than good.

“When we speak harshly about the abuser that makes the victim feel like they may have to defend them,” Hunt said.

She also said victims or those who may know someone in an abusive relationship are encouraged to reach out to HOPE or call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 888-345-3990.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].