Residents rise up to end violence against women
by Paige Rentz
Students, teachers, advocates, volunteers and interested members of the community gathered Thursday at the Jacksonville State University Amphitheater to dance, speak out and raise awareness to end the worldwide problem of violence against women and girls.

“It shows diversity,” said Amberlee Roberts, a criminal justice major, as she surveyed the crowd. “There’s a lot of different people here. It shows it’s not just through one culture.”

Anniston domestic violence shelter and resource organization 2nd Chance sponsored the event, along with a later event in Anniston, to coordinate with 14 events statewide and other in more than 203 countries. It was all part of One Billion Rising, a global initiative sponsored by the V-Day Foundation.

“I’m blown away by the sheer amount of people showing up and participating,” said Trace Fleming-Smith, an advocate with 2nd Chance and one of events’ organizers. “It shows to me that people are hungry for this change.”

One Billion Rising, set to coincide with the 15th anniversary of V-Day, grew out of a United Nations statistic that estimates one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime. Given the current global population, the proportion works out to more than one billion women currently living today who will become victims of violence in their lifetimes.

Jenniffer Whyte of JW Fitness Crew led participants in “Break the Chain,” an official dance choreographed by Debbie Allen and performed all over the world on Thursday.

The event, though aimed at bringing awareness to quite a sobering topic, was celebratory.

“Today is about uplifting and our standing together, side by side, to do something different to change the world,” said Susan Shipman, director of 2nd Chance. “So we hope we’re shaking the world today.”

But participants still remembered that the work to end violence against women is a daily struggle.

“We do it 365 days a year,” said Kelly Mizic, a 2nd Chance counselor. “This is great, bringing out the public, but it still will continue tomorrow.”

“All we can do is raise awareness,” added her coworker Danielle Poole, “so people know there’s programs like us so if they do need help they can contact us and we can channel them in the right direction.”

Shipman said even though women in the United States are lucky compared to many countries — some participants at risings across the globe risked their lives doing so — the statistics are still startling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women has been raped at some time in her life, and one in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime.

Katherine Bergquist performed “My Short Skirt,” a monologue from V-Day founder Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” The 21-year-old JSU performance theater major said she originally became involved with V-Day through a friend who was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend.

“Her story touched me,” she said. “I wanted to help rise with other women because it’s such a rampant thing, sexual assault.”

She also rises for her sisters. One of five girls in her family, Bergquist said that given the statistics, “it’s one of us, any of us.”

Melissa Kirby also shared her reason for rising.

Kirby was molested by her paternal grandfather when she was 10 years old. A student in the social work program at JSU, Kirby was called to her future career path to break the cycle.

“I’m going to focus on family and child welfare to protect children from the things that I had to go through as a child,” she said.

“I feel honored to be here, I really do,” she said of the global event.

Later, Kirby said talking about her experiences openly was empowering and that awareness events like One Billion Rising are critical.

“It’s very important for every woman, and every man too,” she said of speaking out about violence against women. “And for parents to teach their sons and for parents to teach their children. It needs to stop, period.”
© 2013