Vigil remembers domestic violence victims
BY MIKE WARREN
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The organizers of the Family Center in Wisconsin Rapids would like to do with domestic violence what MADD has done to drunk driving and what proponents of clean air did to smoking.
“If only we could figure out how issues like drunk driving went from it being accepted to now we take keys away from people. We have services to give them a safe ride. The criminal justice system comes down pretty strong on it. If we ever hope to end domestic violence, we need to figure out what the folks behind Mothers Against Drunk Driving did to turn that tide, and we haven’t figured that out.”
Sue Sippel, Family Center Executive Director, made those comments Oct. 13, following another vigil honoring community members for their ongoing support and remembering victims who died due to domestic violence-related homicides in Wisconsin in 2021.
“People kind of get numb to…you know, this is a person,” Sippel said, in response to the reporter asking why events such as the vigil are important. “Events like this help put that face on that unknown.”
And while facilities such as the Family Center are vigilant about confidentiality and safety and security, Sippel says they have been deliberate about becoming more visible in the community, encouraging more victims to come forward.
“In the early days, domestic violence shelters were in an undisclosed location, tucked away somewhere. And I think that spoke to the mindset of, ‘You need to hide.’ Over time shelters became public, so that people understood that you don’t need to be ashamed, you don’t need to hide.”
With a standing room-only audience, Alesha Meyers of Wausau told an abbreviated version of her story of survival.
“My biggest thing was talking about it,” she told the City Times afterward. “Speaking about it to other people helped me heal.”
Meyers had plenty to heal from. Two years of abuse at the hands of her husband, David Hodge, came to a climax in June 2013, when – for four straight days – he beat her mercilessly, stopping only to catch his breath because he got winded from the violent, relentless attacks. Alesha got away only when her husband went to retrieve a money order from a local retailer. She used a dropped call between the two while he was gone as an opportunity to call 911.
David Hodge eventually served four-and-a-half years in prison. He now lives in Virginia. The two are still legally married.
“I think that if we make people more aware of what’s going on, maybe it would get people to get the help they need before it gets to a point of that anger hurting somebody, or causes them to lose their life,” she added.
63 people lost their lives to domestic violence in Wisconsin in 2021, ranging in age from three months to 77 years. Two victims were pregnant at the times of their homicides. In a show of remembrance during the vigil, battery-powered luminaries were switched off one-by-one, as each of the victims’ names was read aloud. Afterward, Lincoln High School’s Bel Canto choir performed their version of Andy Beck’s “Count the Stars”, under the direction of Julie Stoffel.
With the theme, “Every1 Knows Some1”, Sippel asked the audience at the start of the vigil, “What are you going to do about that? What will you do to prepare yourself to help them? If we all know someone, we all can play a role in helping them,” she added.
Sippel and her staff also used the occasion to hand out their annual awards, recognizing community members who have gone above and beyond to support the mission of the Family Center.
Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Leadership Classes received the Center’s “Community Treasure” award. Ho-Chunk Gaming Nekoosa and Rapids Sheet Metal Works, Inc. were given “Above & Beyond for Business” awards. Nicholas Abts was recognized as the Family Center Board Member of the Year. Sheriff Shawn Becker and the Wood County Sheriff’s Department received the “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” honor. “Community Champion” awards went to Lincoln High School Associate Principal Kelly Zywicki and Wood County Assistant District Attorney David Knaapen.