NORTH MIAMI BEACH – For eight years, Antonia Hilaire silently suffered merciless beatings from her husband as their three children watched.
Too afraid to leave and isolated from friends and family, Hilaire, 40, of Hollywood, kept her bruised self-image and battered body hidden, hoping things would change.
“Any time he was upset, he would either slap me or kick me. One time, he put a gun on me saying that he was going to kill me,” Hilaire recalled as tears flowed. “In one instance, he drove me all the way to the beach and said he was going to kill me and dump my body.’’
Hilaire took part in the Safespace Foundation 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Walk-A-Thon and Awareness Expo on Saturday, Oct. 10. The event, at the Sen. Gwen Margolis Amphitheater in North Miami Beach, recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Safespace Foundation, the Miami HEAT, the North Miami Beach Police Department and other law enforcement and social services agencies urged about 500 community leaders, domestic-violence survivors like Hilaire, and their families to join the two-mile walk, seeking to end domestic abuse.
“This Walk is about awareness, it’s about education and we want to empower people, to let them know that they are supported, that there are resources out here for them, and we want to eradicate domestic violence,” said Roslyn Parker, president of Safespace.
Although 95 percent of abuse is male to female, there are women who abuse their male partners, women who abuse women, and men who abuse men. No ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religious or socioeconomic class is devoid of abuse, which can be physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, financial and psychological, experts say.
In Miami-Dade, according to North Miami Beach Police Chief Rafael Hernandez Jr., domestic violence homicides are increasing. In Florida, there has been a 37-percent increase in requests for services for victims of domestic violence over last year. In January through June 2009, Florida had a 7.6 percent decrease in nonviolent crimes, yet incidents of domestic violence increased 5.2 percent in the same time frame, Hernandez said.
The Safespace Foundation and its supporters, including the Miami HEAT and the South Florida Times, offer hope.
“We are so excited to be out here today. This is our 15th year supporting Safespace, and joining the heroes and sponsor agencies who really are committed to stopping that cycle of violence that is affecting our nation, especially here in Miami,” Chris Riley, wife of Miami HEAT president Pat Riley, told the South Florida Times.
Safespace is a non-profit domestic violence advocate that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and financial assistance so victims can relocate and pay their bills. Through their collaboration with several Miami-Dade County agencies and other civic and community groups, private donors and businesses, Safespace is committed to educating survivors to become independent and self-sufficient.
The agency also seeks to inform the public of the destructive impact that domestic violence has on children, families and communities.
The first step toward healing in a domestic-violence situation is to break the isolation, experts say. Though recovering may be a long, difficult process, in time, those who survive discover peace of mind and develop a new self-confidence, according to experts.
“I am okay and my kids are okay also. I feel connected to the Walk. I am so glad [to be alive] because some of the women they get killed, and I need to get the word out,” Hilaire said.
She implored other victims: “Yes, it is difficult to tell somebody, but talk to somebody—a friend, a family member—just try to get help.”
THE MORE YOU KNOW
• One in three women will become a victim of domestic violence
• A woman is murdered by her husband or boyfriend every six hours
• Forty percent of women’s deaths are the result of domestic violence
• Six out of 10 teenagers will become victims of dating abuse
Source: North Miami Beach Police Chief Rafael Hernandez Jr., citing statistics from the National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you or someone you know is being abused, please call the Florida Domestic Violence 24-hour hotline at 1-800-500-1119 or visit www.safespacefoundation.org.