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Broken arms, black eyes, busted lips, sprained wrists, a bruised neck, clumps of hair missing from my scalp—this was the uniform I frequently adorned in my early twenties.

I used to cover these injuries with a hefty amount of clothing, strategically placed jewelry and accessories, and mounds of concealer.  Or, I would just suddenly fall ill, and be unable to come to work or class.

I hid.  I hid because I loved my abuser, because I believed he needed help and could get better.  As time lapsed during that three year relationship, I realized he wasn’t going to get better.  It was getting worse.  He used to smack me, shove me down, and drag me across the floor, but the longer I stayed with him, he would physically torture me, beat my head until I bled, and strangle me until I lost consciousness.

I was going to die.

But I kept hiding.  I hid then because he told me if I told anyone, he would kill me and then kill himself.

After one particularly terrifying near-death experience, I finally decided my life was worth more than his reputation.  I went to a local police department and requested an emergency protection order.

My story did not begin or end there.  Before that relationship, I witnessed and endured abuse as a child.  After I left that abuser who devastated my early twenties, he continued to stalk me, including violating his domestic violence order by breaking into my home.  His only criminal penalty was a $500 fine.

Meanwhile, I continued to bear the consequences of what I had survived.  A neurologist explained to me that traumatic brain injury had affected my memory, my ability to concentrate, the way my brain processed and reacted to emotions, and even my sense of balance.  I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes me to experience terrifying panic attacks, unstoppable flashbacks, insomnia, bouts of depression, and a consistent, overwhelming fear that has unfortunately guided my life since.

I have spent six years since then adjusting to life with post-traumatic anxiety. I fell, for about a year, into a relationship with another partner who abused me emotionally, financially, and physically.  I don’t want to tell you how many people at school, at work, and in my social circle realized what was happening, and said and did nothing to intervene. I contemplated suicide, just to feel relief from the pain I’d endured.

Because I kept quiet, and because everyone around me who knew kept quiet, I almost died.

South Carolina has struggled for years with the disease of silence.  After holding the number one ranking as the state  with the most women killed by men in domestic violence fatalities, South Carolinians were relieved to learn last year we had moved from the number one deadliest state for battered women to number five. But this still means we have a vast problem in this state with individuals remaining in relationships that may kill them.

And silence will not help this.

More recently, Jane Doe vs. State of South Carolina grabbed headlines when the Supreme Court of South Carolina acknowledged that the current wording of domestic violence laws is unconstitutional. The court acknowledged that by only extending protection to “men and women” in domestic violence situations, current law unfairly excludes same-sex couples.  However, the ruling has caused both liberals and conservatives to question how the law should be rewritten.  Even Governor Henry McMaster came forward to explain his concerns that the law should extend protection to unmarried couples or couples who do not live together or have children together, citing the “catastrophic consequences and generational implications—destroyed lives, broken marriages, drug abuse, joblessness and more.” Every side seems to agree: Domestic violence is ruining, and ending, lives in South Carolina.

And silence will not help this.

As a college instructor, I’ve noticed my students are always shocked to learn the United States did not have shelters for victims of domestic violence until 1972; as a society, our understanding of domestic violence is fairly new.  During that early era of awareness, domestic violence was viewed as a problem of wife-beating.  Although women are still disproportionately victimized by domestic violence, it’s a phenomenon which exists in many other contexts beyond male-female relationships.  Domestic violence can occur between parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives.  Intimate partner violence, specifically, can occur between current or former partners—whether gay or straight, cisgender or transgender, male or female.  Many of us still fail to understand the scope of how many people are affected by domestic violence.

And silence will not help this.

The Centers for Disease Control states that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the United States have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.  Domestic violence, and in particular intimate partner violence, can happen to anyone.

And silence will not help this.

I stayed silent for too long.  I put my life at risk, and I am left still dealing with the neurological and psychological impacts that domestic violence had on my life.  I am trying to speak up.  I am trying to prevent others from going through what I barely survived. Last summer, I started a blog where I discuss my experiences as a survivor of intimate partner violence and the effects it has had on my life.  I am now in the final year of my doctorate program at the University of South Carolina, where I focus my research on understudied topics related to domestic violence, such as transgender victimization and traumatic brain injury.  When it comes to domestic violence, there are so many things we do not understand or talk about.

And silence will not help this.

The 11th Annual Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence has been planned for this Oct. 7 in Finlay Park.  It is completely free and open to the public, although pre-registration is required.  This is our opportunity as a community to acknowledge, we have been silent long enough.

Recent data shows that in 2014, 62% of female homicide victims who were killed by men in the state of South Carolina were actually murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, or ex-boyfriends.  We must stop viewing domestic violence as a private matter that should be kept hidden behind closed doors.  It is no longer a family problem.  It is a massive public health concern.

And silence will not help this.

Walk with me.  Join me and others who care about the well-being of this community on Oct. 7.  It is time for the Capital City to take a stand.  Domestic violence must not be allowed to continue in this state.  No longer can we allow our citizens to suffer and die, while we remain silent.

For information on the Mayor’s Walk, including how to sign up and a map of the route, please click here.

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