Lighting 16 candles around a table set with 16 plates, each for a victim of domestic violence, Lycoming County law enforcement, counselors and court services members remembered the lives lost over the years.
Jennifer Stack thought death was her only way out of her abuse.
“People count you out. ‘She’ll never leave’ ‘She’ll never do anything with her life,’ ” Stack said. “And I was caught up in the grip of a continuous cycle, that they talked about here today – abuse.”
Stack, now a counselor with Wise Options, said she loved each victim remembered at the vigil saying “they were me.”
“Abuse manipulates the mind so much that we start to believe our own lies, ‘Things will get better,’” Stack said.
She thanked the people who never gave up on her over the years and helped her break the cycle.
One in three women and one in four men suffer from domestic violence across the nation.
In Lycoming County, reports of abuse have continued to rise over the years – from 301 Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders filed in 2017 to 339 in 2018, according to county judge Joy McCoy. So far this year, filings have risen above 320, she added.
“We are on track for a banner year this year,” McCoy said, adding that she anticipates the numbers to soon top last year.
The rise in PFAs is attributed to a number of factors, she added, ranging from an increased awareness, but also an increase in violence throughout the community.
The YWCA recently added Scott Cole, of Williamsport, to its list of domestic violence victims. Cole was stabbed to death in 2017 by Rasheed D. Williams, with whom he was in a relationship. While Williams denied the relationship, evidence that surfaced during his trial and reports from Cole’s family contributed to the YWCA’s determination.
Since taking office nearly 10 years ago, McCoy has made a concerted effort to raise awareness for domestic violence and reassess how the courts and law enforcement deal with victims.
Since the county started tracking domestic violence deaths in 1996, 16 have been recorded and three others are currently under investigation, McCoy said.
Domestic violence awareness holds a personal meaning for McCoy who developed a passion for victims as a defense attorney in the 1990s. She represented a woman who was killed by her husband during a custody exchange.
In another case, after becoming a judge, McCoy presided over the case of Sherrilyn Kephart, a Hepburn Township woman who, in 2013, was beaten by her children’s father during a custody exchange. He then put her body and himself in their car and set it on fire, killing them both.
Increasing awareness and coordination between departments and organizations has been a highlight of McCoy’s judgeship.
The court works closely with Wise Options to provide options for victims and increase awareness and education among the public.
During a vigil for domestic violence victims Wednesday night, many survivors shared their stories and struggle to recover and deal with the trauma of the past.
Men and women suffering from domestic violence are fighting a war in their own homes, said Amber Morningstar, program director.
She encouraged victims and family members to reach out to Wise Options representatives for help.