LARGO — State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy hosted her second Not One Campaign Against Domestic Violence at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) where domestic violence survivors shared their stories and discussed ways to eradicate domestic violence from the county on Oct. 2.
“It is so important that we never forget those who oftentimes we may not know who they are, but we know exist,” said Braveboy, who first hosted the event during her campaign for state’s attorney.
“These are people oftentimes who live in darkness and we want to uncover them so that they can seek justice for themselves and so they can end generational violence in their homes and their communities.”
The night before Braveboy’s event, the Office of the Sheriff kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month with its Purple Light Nights ceremony.
The annual event aims to rally the community against domestic violence, and residents are encouraged to light purple light bulbs in solidarity with victims and survivors.
According to County Sheriff Melvin High, the theme for this year was leadership matters, and during the event, the purple lightbulb award was awarded to Braveboy, in recognition of her partnership, support and leadership against domestic violence.
“It was my great pleasure to present that award to state’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy last night because she is not only a partner in our leadership against domestic violence, she is a partner and collaborator every day and a fearless advocate for citizens,” said High, who encouraged those in attendance to raise a unifying voice against domestic violence.
“This issue of domestic violence brings all of us together because there is no organization, no race, no culture, no religion that is immune to the effects of domestic violence,” Braveboy said. “It’s great to bring groups together, united for a purpose.”
During the event, a panel of six women shared their experiences with domestic violence.
One of them was Pamela Hawk, whose home became extremely abusive with her husband, but she felt like she did not have anywhere to turn because she was taught growing up that “what goes on in the household, stays in the household.”
Her abuse started with manipulation and isolation as she was made to stay home with no control over her own income, and it progressed from there. Eventually, she went to a shelter in the county but ended up coming back, and the abuse got worse.
When she was finally able to take her four children and leave, there was one thing she had to gain to change her life for good: self-esteem.
“After we divorced and I finally got over that hump, I then realized that I had some self-esteem issues that I had to deal with,” Hawk said. “So we can always look at the other person, the perpetrator, and what they’re doing and what their issues are, but as survivors, we also have to look within, or the cycle will just become perpetuated.”
Once she was away from her abusive situation, Hawk wanted to find a way to help others in similar situations, so she founded her nonprofit Serenity’s Door in 2012, where she offers a variety of services to women and children in need.
Linda Diaz is the founder of Lauryn’s Law, an organization committed to spreading awareness on the effects of bullying and mental health after her daughter committed suicide due to bullying.
Even though she is committed to helping others, she continues to look over her shoulder in fear due to her own experiences with domestic violence.
She first dealt with abuse at the age of 21, which ended with her being beaten up and ending up in an ambulance with multiple injuries. The man who assaulted her only received one year of probation for the crime.
During her second experience, her husband became abusive when she was pregnant. She found out he had been on heroin, and later cocaine, without her knowing. Although she tried to stick it out and get him help, it was the last straw when he allegedly attempted to throw her out of the car on the way to counseling.
What followed during her attempts to get a divorce and restraining orders were incidents of stalking and him trying to break into her house and his efforts to kill both her and her daughters.
The fight against domestic violence is personal for Braveboy as well as her cousin was a victim of domestic violence. She was stabbed to death 16 times by her husband, leaving behind two children. The oldest will now be graduating high school this year.
Because of her experience, Braveboy advocated for laws to help victims of domestic violence as a state delegate, and now, as state’s attorney, her office is advocating for legislation and policies to ensure that those convicted of abuse get the appropriate sentence.
The latest legislation the Office of the State’s Attorney is working toward is one that will make strangulation a first-degree assault, said Assistant Chief of the Family Violence and Special Victims Unit Melissa Hoppmeyer.
“Strangulation makes the victims seven times more likely to be a victim of domestic homicide,” Hoppmeyer said. “It takes only less than five minutes to kill somebody with the constant pressure of strangulation.”
Currently, strangulation is treated as a misdemeanor, but with the new legislation, it will carry the possibility of 25 years in prison.
Following the panel, other members of the community had the chance to share their own experiences with domestic violence that they had either overcome or were still experiencing.
They also shared solutions such as ways that Child Protective Services can better assist when children are involved, ways to raise awareness in schools and services for men who are also engaged in domestic violence situations.
“You and the community are who we need to combat this because you know who those victims are, you know when there are issues in families,” Braveboy said. “It doesn’t have to be an intimate partner issue, and you know when someone is complaining that their son is hostile towards them. That cannot be accepted and should not be acceptable.”