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End the Stigma of Domestic Abuse

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Amber Helsel

I admit that my last relationship wasn't the healthiest one. I started a lot of fights and arguments I shouldn't have, and his favorite activity was egging me on and making me even angrier. We always ended up apologizing, but a few hours or days later, we'd just start again.

There's also something I rarely talk about: One of my college roommates almost called the cops over a particularly bad fight between my now-ex and me.

No real violence happened, but it almost did, and to this day, I regret my actions. See, it started off as a normal fight. He did something to make me angry, and then we began to argue. At some point, it got a little uglier than normal.

I made the first move. He said something to piss me off, and in retaliation, I reached out and pinched him really hard on the skin near his elbow. What happened next was the first and only time he ever hit me. He reached out and punched me really hard in the arm.

At that point, our yelling had gotten extremely loud, so my roommate knocked on my door and asked if we were OK. She threatened to call the cops and then ended up demanding that I go to another room and lock the door. She asked me if he had laid a hand on me, and I said no because it wasn't fair for me to call him out for something I started. He and I calmed down, and then talked it out, like the mature adults we should've been in the first place.

There was another night that strikes a much stronger chord. A few weeks later, we again started arguing about something—at this point, who knows what. The argument got pretty bad, and as a way to get away from it, I decided to go take a shower. When I got out, I walked into his room only to discover a broken mirror (it was one of those flimsy dorm mirrors with a cardboard backing, so it wasn't really that hard to break it) and no boyfriend.

I was terrified, to say the least. I imagined him driving himself to the hospital with a bloody hand. I ran outside and almost down the main road, panicking into the phone to a friend, who told me that the smartest thing was to just go back home and wait.

"He'll call you if he's seriously hurt," she told me.

He reappeared hours later with flowers and a stuffed animal. He said he had thrown a remote control at the mirror and then had gone out to think and ended up stopping by the grocery store to buy me those items. My reaction was to be angry again, but this time, I just decided to ignore him for a few hours.

Other times (and luckily, there were very few times the fights got that out of hand), he'd reach out like he was about to hit me, but draw back because he didn't want to hurt me. I'd scream at him to just do it. I was being obstinate. I was arguing about things that didn't matter. I was selfish and self-serving.

I thank God every day that my relationship ended. I only imagine what could've been down the road had we gotten married, and it's helped me recognize that I have some issues I need to fix before being with someone else.

All that said, I would never compare my experiences to a victim of real, true domestic violence—the kind that leaves you afraid for your life and wondering why you've never noticed this side of your significant other.

My experiences, while tough to reconcile, are nothing compared to what women (and some men) may experience.

Last week, a friend asked me if domestic violence is prevalent in Mississippi. The answer is yes. About 40.1 percent of women and 25.8 percent of men in the state have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking at the hands of an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

While we aren't the highest (we're right behind New Hampshire and Indiana, which both have a percentage of 40.4 percent), we're still in—at the very least—the top 15 or 20 in the country. In the U.S., one in four women and one in seven men have been a victim of severe violence by an intimate partner. Around 48 percent of men and women have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner, and 81 percent of victims report long-term impacts from abuse.

With all these statistics, it's important to raise awareness about domestic violence. Each year for the JFP Chick Ball, we host an event to raise awareness for the issue, and a local organization that helps victims of domestic abuse in Mississippi receives the proceeds.

This year, the proceeds go toward the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which helps the state's 13 shelters.

At every Chick Ball, we lift up women by focusing heavily on them for the event. This year is no different. We're honoring 10 women, our annual Chicks We Love, who give back to their community, often in the area of domestic abuse, but not limited to it. The JFP Chick Ball will feature female musicians in every act. The silent auction of more than 100 items will include several pieces of art that seek to raise awareness and to just highlight women in general.

For so long, domestic violence has been a taboo subject for many people. Many victims don't report their crimes, either out of fear or simply because they don't recognize the signs. That's why we do the JFP Chick Ball. We want to educate people, to make them aware, while giving every person the chance to help (the cover is always $5, and the event attracts a wonderful diversity of ages, 18 and up). We want to help those families who may not be able to help themselves, and we want to raise our voices so we can be heard.

It's time we put an end to the stigma around domestic violence. Join us; celebrate with us; help us raise awareness for women who may not be able to speak for themselves.

Get all the details for the 11th annual JFP Chick Ball at jfpchickball.com. You can sponsor for as little as $50; donate at http://mcadv.org/donate/.

Assistant Editor Amber Helsel is older than you think. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi and has decided to become a superhero. Email her at [email protected]

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