To raise awareness of that fact, 60 or so gathered Friday in Jacksonville as part of One Billion Rising, a year-old global campaign organized by the more than decade-old V-Day campaign, started by Eve Ensler – author of the play “The Vagina Monologues.”
The one billion number wasn’t chosen randomly. According to research from the United Nations, that’s how many women and girls globally who will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. One out of every three.
The number is staggering, said Trace Fleming-Smith, an organizer for the event and a victim’s advocate for 2nd Chance, Inc. a local resource center for victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
“Many people have no idea it’s that prevalent, and that it’s actually an epidemic,” Fleming-Smith said.
Gathered together inside the auditorium at Jacksonville State University’s Theron Montgomery building were students, teachers, husbands, wives and young couples. They listened to spoken word poetry and to excerpts from Ensler’s play.
Jacksonville’s event was joined by others in Birmingham, Montgomery and Dothan, and thousands more in countries across the world, all happening at around the same time.
And there’s good reason to make such a large, global statement, organizers of the event said.
Of the 2,992 reported cases of domestic violence in Alabama in 2012, 78 percent of the victims were female, according to a report by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. The victim was either a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of the offender in 43 percent of reported domestic violence aggravated assaults that year. In 23 percent the victim was the wife.
In 2012, there were 18 females killed in Alabama at the hands of a man they knew. There were 1,264 reported rapes in the state in 2012, but that number is likely much lower than the actual number of rapes, experts believe, because many go unreported. In 65 percent of those rapes, the victim either knew or was related to the offender.
In February 2013, federal lawmakers passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – which expanded the law to include protections for gays, lesbians, native Americans and undocumented immigrants — but only three members of Alabama’s nine-member congregational delegation voted to approve the bill. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham and Spencer Bachus R-Ala, were the only Alabama representatives to support it, joined by Senator Richard Shelby.
Shirley Watts, 79, has worked at the 2nd Chance thrift store since 2002. Seated with her family at Friday’s event, she said people often speak to her at work about the abuse they’ve suffered. They come from all walks of life, Watts said, the rich and the poor alike.
Asked if she has any friends or family who’ve suffered from abuse, Watts said, no, but that it’s hard to know for sure.
“If I did, I didn’t recognize it,” Watts said. “I don’t know if it happened to me if I would have talked about it. But you don’t know until it happens to you.”
That’s why events like Friday’s are so important, Fleming-Smith said.
It makes clear that it’s acceptable to talk about abuse and to ask for help, whether from police or from any one of the many available resources and professionals.
“Having events like this bring it to the forefront,” she said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.