By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
HOPE Inc. held its annual candlelight vigil Tuesday night at Fairmont State University, in honor of survivors of domestic violence and in memory of its victims.
It also paid tribute to the woman, a domestic violence survivor and one-time HOPE employee, who created the vigil so many years ago.
Sandy Burns was presented posthumously the Fahey Award, given to the group or person who has made an outstanding contribution to HOPE, said executive director Harriet Sutton.
A single mother, Burns enrolled at Fairmont State at age 50 and graduated at age 54 with a degree in social work.
“It was her suggestion to have a candlelight service each year to honor victims of domestic violence,” Sutton said.
“She was a special lady with an outstanding work ethic. She spent numerous hours seeing that victims’ needs were served. She had an outgoing personality that endeared her to staff and victims. Her passing this year left an empty space in the hearts of those who knew her.”
“She was a victim of physical and mental abuse by my father,” said Ryan Burns on accepting the award in his mother’s name.
“We moved to Florida and got on the bus back to Fairmont under the guise of going to the grocery store.”
Here, Sandy Burns learned about HOPE, where she and Ryan stayed for six months while she worked on getting her life back together.
“HOPE is a wonderful organization. She loved everything it stands for.”
Too often, people make excuses about domestic violence, said guest speaker Dr. Maria Rose, Fairmont State president.
“It’s time to end those kinds of statements. Awareness is the key to ending domestic violence.”
From physical, sexual and emotional abuse to intimidation and neglect, domestic violence takes many forms and imparts long-lasting, widespread effects, especially on children, she said.
“To put it into perspective, the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,614. For that same time period, number of women in the U.S. killed as result of domestic violence was 11,744 ... almost twice as many.”
Every minute, 24 people experience some form of domestic violence, she added. The cost is staggering, from $5.8 billion in health care costs, to $35 billion when emergency care, legal fees and other costs are added.
“The average number of times someone hits a spouse before a police report is filed is 35. Can you imagine being hit 35 times before seeking help?” she asked.
Women who leave their abusers often run into out-of-date laws designed to protect against stranger abuse, not partner abuse, Rose said.
“Consider the woman who, nine days after giving birth, fired two warning shots to the ceiling to deter her ex-husband who was chasing her through the house, having already assaulted her with clear intent to do harm.
“She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.”
Rose added that statistics indicate that one in five college women will be the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault during her college years.
She said that faculty and staff at Fairmont State undergo Title IX training “to provide a safe environment for all our students.”
“But Title IX does not protect from domestic violence,” she said.
“The next critical step in the rights of women on campus is to find the right of empowering victims of all kind.
“We are taking that first step tonight by raising our awareness,” she said.
HOPE Inc. is an agency of the United Way of Marion County. For more information, call 304-367-1100.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.