DILLON, SC (WBTW) – The Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault held a candlelight vigil Thursday night called Project Woman to give domestic abuse survivors a platform to share their stories.
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month and for Dillon County Coordinator of the Pee Dee Coalition, Rebecca Tyson, the vigil was a way to shine a light on the issue.
Three domestic violence survivors shared their stories of survival.
Manessa Hardin, 27, said she experienced domestic violence since she was a toddler.
“When I was 4-years-old, my dad murdered my mother in front of me and my brother,” she said.
Hardin said she remembers the day vividly.
“My dad was acting really strange when we were inside and it smelled of alcohol,” recalled Hardin. “He started choking her and when he choked her out, she fell to the floor. My dad grabbed a pole that holds the sliding glass door and he beat her repeatedly and he beat her to death.”
Hardin said her dad’s parents became emotionally and sexually abusive towards her as a custody battle between the two sets of grandparents ensued.
“They would tell me I was the reason that my dad killed my mom,” Hardin said. “They used to still give me a bath when I was 10-years-old and go to the bathroom and wipe me.”
The 27-year-old said the abuse didn’t end after her preteen years.
“I never thought in a million years that that would ever happen to me,” said Hardin. “It happened to my mom. It happened to my grandma, my aunt, so I figured it would stop with me.”
Hardin said she was just 17-years-old when it happened.
“My experience with rape isn’t how other people describe it as in an alley, and, you know, beaten to death,” she said. “Mine was someone I knew very well, he was my brother’s friend.”
She said it was the night of her brother’s graduation.
“He (the attacker) spent the night in my house that night and he came into my room and he climbed into my bed with me and I told him he needed to get out and he kept trying to touch me,” she recounted. “When I went to get out of the room he grabbed me and never being close to that action it was just fear and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really about to happen to me.’”
Hardin said she felt violated and that she told her brother’s friend “no.” With her grandmother in the other room, she said she didn’t know what to do in that moment.
“I remember him holding me down and he had his arm over my mouth so I couldn’t get my grandma and he had me pinned down and he penetrated and I remember it hurt so bad and then he stopped,” an emotional Hardin remembered.
Hardin said she had maintained her virginity.
“Something that I’ve held on so sacred all my life was gone just like that,” she said.
A few months later, Hardin said she found herself in a physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive relationship with her high school sweetheart. She said the first four months of the relationship she felt like he was prince charming and she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but things took a turn for the worse.
“He became very possessive and he became very jealous and he hit me the day before Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Hardin said her boyfriend surprised her with a promise ring, but she forgot to wear it and that’s when, she said, her boyfriend got mad at her and became very controlling. She said when they applied to colleges, he asked her to dumb-down her answers in order to be in the same classes.
“His class ring pierced the side of my eye and so, of course, I wore concealer and covered it up and didn’t tell anybody,” Hardin said. It was the first and last time he put his hands on her.
She said she wished she would have told somebody, but at the time she loved him and didn’t want to get him in trouble.
Hardin said she tried to reconnect with her father when he got out of prison, but he was still struggling with drugs and alcohol. She said it wasn’t until six months ago that she began a new relationship with her father.
A wife and mother to three daughters, Hardin said she wants her children to live a life not knowing abuse.
“I don’t want to keep always looking back, and now I have six eyes looking up at me and I don’t want them looking back at something they had nothing to do with,” she said. “I don’t want to live my life in fear because I don’t want my children to live their lives in fear.”
Hardin said she believes everything happens for a reason and hopes her story inspires someone else to come forward and share their journey.
“There comes a point in your life where you get to be like, ‘There has to be more than this. I am here for a reason so let me find out what that reason is,'” she said.
Domestic violence survivors and Pee Dee Coalition members united at Thursday night’s vigil. Dillon County Coordinator of the Pee Dee Coalition, Rebecca Tyson said in the past year, the organization has serviced more than 62 families and victims.
“We’ve had five women and one child who have spent a total of 149 nights in our Florence shelter,” said Tyson. “In the past year, we’ve also had 39 participants from Dillon County that have been in the Alternatives To Violence (ATV) Program.”
Tyson said age does not matter and that the resources the Pee Dee Coalition has to offer, like shelter and the 24-hour crisis line, are welcome to anyone who has witnessed domestic violence.
“We’ve had 11 children from Dillon County be serviced by the Durant Center in Florence for sexual and physical abuse,” said Tyson. “We’ve had five sexual assaults that have been reported in the past year, but many sexual assaults and domestic violence cases go unreported.”
Tyson said more than 6,000 volunteer hours were put in this past year and without volunteers, the shelters could not run. She said it can be difficult to know when domestic violence is happening, but gave warning signs for people to be aware of.
“Some of the signs that we have recognized are prior military or law enforcement experience or drug and alcohol issues,” said Tyson. “Prior abuse when they were a child, if they see it as a child they sometimes become abusers. As well as controlling behavior and constantly checking on the other person or checking their cell phones seeing who they’re talking to.”
The Pee Dee Coalition offers resources like a 24-hour crisis hotline and shelter for domestic abuse victims.
You can reach the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-273-1820.