Candlelight illuminated the downtown Veterans Memorial Park Monday night as victims
of domestic violence were remembered and the community re-affirmed its commitment to support the women and men who come forward.
The candlelight vigil was held by the Big Horn County CARES organization, a local group dedicated to supporting both the victims of domestic violence and their families. The event was held in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
During the event, Big Horn County Commissioners Felix Carrizales and Deb Craft signed a proclamation in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Lovell High School Swing Choir also attended, singing Josh Groban’s gospel number “You Raise Me Up” as well as an adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Three local members of the community spoke up in honor of family members who had lost their lives due to domestic violence. Carolyn Barnes and Renela Barnes stood up and spoke in memory of Carol Jean Barnes, who lost her life at the hands of her partner earlier this year.
“We just want to say that Carol Jean was always there for every one who needed help. She was always there to give her hugs and kisses for anyone who needed them,” Carolyn said. “So, we really want to say that if you guys are involved in domestic violence
and abuse, please speak up. This isn’t how it should be, and your family shouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of someone who took your life too soon. So, please, speak up, and get help. “
Jim Thomas also spoke at the event in memory of his daughter, Jennifer McDougall, a former resident of Lovell who lost her life in 2010 to her husband in Texas.
“Who does it affect? And how long and how deep are those effects going to be? I’m afraid they turn out to be (fathomless),” Thomas said, speaking on how deeply domestic violence affects family members. “
Thomas said he has since discovered how domestic violence can often be ignored within a community.
“It falls to us to help those who suffer domestic violence. I’ve suffered many years of being the one who lost. In the last couple years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a wonderful woman who was a domestic violence survivor. She escaped with her life, but just barely. She now struggles with being ostracized due to being a survivor,” Thomas said. “It is up to us to let them know it is okay. It is up to us to let them know somebody does care. Because domestic violence is one of those things that nobody ever talks about.”
Big Horn County Attorney Marcia Bean said the county is committed to prosecuting domestic abusers, but that can often have a heavy toll on victims.
“What I’m saying to that victim isn’t easy, that if we prosecute they’re going to go through a difficult process,” Bean said. “They’re going to have to testify. They’re going to be re-victimized and have to relive their trauma. They’re going to be questioned. They’re going to hear their abuser tell them it’s their fault.”
Bean said that’s why it is especially important that victims have the community’s support and have access to resources.
“(Victims) know it’s wrong. They know they don’t want to live like that. They need resources to help them speak out, to help them break the cycle,” Bean said.
Bean also said the county is training law enforcement in attaining evidence for evidence based prosecution, to limit a victim’s involvement in domestic violence prosecution efforts.
Lovell Police Chief Dan Laffin said Lovell Police Department works closely with CARES.
“CARES sits five feet from my office. It is absolutely a partnership we share in our community, to support victims of domestic violence and do our very best to supply the (county) attorneys the tools they need to secure prosecution,” Laffin said. “That is our focus, that is what we do, and we will not relent in that approach.”
CARES representative Carol Lowe said CARES has funds available for victims who are courageous enough to come forward, which are allocated to assist with transportation, shelter or other needs.
By Ryan Fitzmaurice