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REMEMBER HER NAME: Vigil mourns loss of Mahalia Townes to domestic violence

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Kim Carson with Tri-County Community Action Agency talks about the myths that surround domestic violence as she faces a silhouette memorial to Mahalia Diona Townes. Below, Mahalia Townes and a medallion marking her death to domestic assault. / October 04, 2021
Mahalia Diona Townes was found dead, alone in a motel room in South Boston on Aug. 24. An autopsy revealed her body was covered with wounds consistent with an assault.

The person charged with her murder, Michael Anthony Small, was the father of her two daughters, Hope and Harmony, ages one and three.

Her death made Townes part of a grim statistic: Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten and every five days a Virginian is killed by an intimate partner.

On Friday night, friends, family and members of Tri-County Community Action Agency gathered at the 7-Eleven store on Virginia Avenue in Clarksville, where Townes worked, to celebrate her life and to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. Their message was, “Remember my name, Mahalia Diona Townes.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Family members and friends sobbed and held each other during the candlelight vigil as cousin Ravin Townes asked, “Did anyone hear her cry out?” She condemned the man charged in her death, Michael Anthony Small, who she said had abused her cousin for more than nine years.

Ravin Townes wondered if the family would ever see closure, noting that since Mahalia Towne’s death, the only information that has been forthcoming in the case is that Small has been arrested and is in jail. That, she continued, is no punishment for a man who has been in prison before. His last incarceration ended 30 days before Mahalia Townes’ death. He’d been jailed for beating her, according to Ravin Townes.

A tearful Mike Haskins, Mahalia’s employer, encouraged everyone to remember Townes as the cheerful and helpful person she was. She was more than a grim statistic illuminating the scourge of domestic abuse, Haskins said — Mahalia was a mother who in the days before her death was happily planning the upcoming birthdays of her two young daughters.

Ravin Townes thanked Haskins for seeing to it that the girls received the gifts their mother had been planning to purchase for them. He bought the presents for the toddlers.

Kim Carson, director of emergency services for Tri-County Community Action Agency, said the question people should be asking is not why Townes was with a person who abused her, but what can and should others do to help people believed to be victims of domestic violence.

Townes’ cousin Ravin said for years the family worried about the day they would get the call telling them that Mahalia was dead. They were with her and nursed and nurtured her after each beating and bruise.

Carson reminded those in attendance that Mahalia Townes was a victim and that “no one deserves to be abused.” Carson used a skit performed at the vigil to dispel a number of the misconceptions about domestic violence and its victims, the most important being that it’s not always easy to walk away from an abuser. Other myths she countered with facts were:

MYTH: Domestic violence is a private family matter.

FACT: Domestic violence is everyone’s business. Keeping domestic violence secret helps no one, has been shown to harm children, incurs substantial costs to society, and serves to perpetrate abuse through learned patterns of behavior.

MYTH: Domestic violence is not really that serious.

FACT: Domestic violence is an illegal act in the U.S. and is considered a crime with serious repercussions. Although there are aspects of domestic violence (example: emotional, psychological, spiritual abuse) that may not be considered criminal in a legal sense, serious and long-lasting physical, emotional and spiritual harm can, and often does, occur. Each and every act of domestic violence needs to be taken seriously.

MYTH: Victims provoke their partners’ violence.

FACT: Whatever the problems exist in a relationship, the use of violence is never justifiable or acceptable. There is no excuse for domestic violence.

MYTH: Domestic violence is an impulse control or anger management problem.

FACT: Abusers act deliberately and with forethought. Abusers choose whom to abuse.

MYTH: Domestic violence is bad, but it happens to people elsewhere.

FACT: Domestic violence happens to people of every educational and socioeconomic level. Domestic violence happens in all races, religions, and age groups.

MYTH: It is easy for a victim to leave their abuser, so if he/she doesn’t leave, it means he/she likes the abuse or is exaggerating how bad it is.

FACT: Fear, lack of safe options, and the inability to survive economically prevent many victims from leaving abusive relationships. Threats of harm, including death to the victim and/or children, keep many battered women and men trapped in abusive situations. The most dangerous time for a victim is when he/she attempts to leave the relationship, or when the abuser discovers that he/she has made plans to leave.

MYTH: Alcohol or use of illegal substance is often the proximate cause of the abuser acting out. Abuse will end once the person is sober.

FACT: Some abusers use it as an excuse for their violent behavior. One does not cause the other.

MYTH: Domestic violence does not affect many people.

FACT: It is believed that domestic violence is the most common, but least reported, crime in the United States.

MYTH: Domestic violence is only physical abuse.

FACT: Physical violence is only a part of a larger pattern of abuse. This may also include emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. Sometimes there is no physical abuse, but the abuser will use other ways to exert power and control over an intimate partner

Because domestic violence thrives in silence, Cheryl Brogdon, a domestic violence and sexual assault case manager at Tri-County Community Action Agency, stressed that that it’s going to take the entire community to be able to bring about change and to let victims know where there are resources to help them and that they are not alone.

“This is an issue that affects everyone,” she explained before sharing some grave numbers:

» Around the world at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.

» Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

» Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.

» Every day in the United States, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.

» In 2020, Virginia’s sexual and domestic violence prevention specialists responded to 70,243 hotline calls and provided in-person counseling and services to 28,845 adults and children who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Mahalia Townes was a resident of Clarksville but grew up in the South Boston area with family here.

“If you or someone you know is being threatened, intimidated, isolated, put down, called names, ignored, not allowed to work, disrespected, bossed around, controlled, tracked, told how to dress, forced to have sex or perform sexual acts, that is an unhealthy relationship,” Brogdon explained.

“If your partner waves a weapon at you, pulls your hair, slaps, shoves or hits you, threatens to leave you, commit suicide or kill you, displays inappropriate anger, care one minute and anger the next, you are in an unhealthy relationship,” she continued —before noting, “Victims of abuse have the right to get help.

“The program [Tri-County Community Action Agency and Virginia’s Sexual & Domestic Violence program] is here to help. Please stand up and speak out against abuse. Let people know that the program is available to assist all victims of abuse.”

The vigil ended with the unveiling a life-size silhouette created in memory of Townes during which Carson asked the public to spread the message that Tri-County Community Action Agency is a physical and emotionally safe place that provides free supportive services for victims and their families in the counties of Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg.

The number for the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Program is (434) 572-1135.

The silhouette is a “Silent Witness Figure” and a visual memorial to Townes, a victim of domestic violence. It is one of over 50 figures of women, children and men from across Virginia who died at the hands of a domestic abuser. Carson said they are often brought out for vigils and other events focused on unmasking domestic violence.

The plaque on Townes’ figure reads, “Mahalia Diona Townes, murdered August 24, 2021, Mecklenburg County, VA, age 26. A granddaughter, daughter, niece, sister, cousin & caring mother, emotionally and physically abused for nine plus years. She was assaulted and left dead in a hotel room by someone she loved UNTIL DEATH. Her daughters are not old enough to remember her, but their names will ring her story forever and ever. Hope and Harmony forever.”

As the candles that had been lit in memory of Townes began to dim, the family was presented with gifts, including two hand-made “Stitches of Love” prayer blankets. It was announced that a fund has been established at Wells Fargo bank for the benefit of Hope and Harmony Townes, her two daughters. Donors can give to the Hope and Harmony Fund at any branch of Wells Fargo or contributions can be made online using .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Before the crowd dispersed, Carson reminded everyone to wear purple on Oct. 21 in memory of Townes and all those lost to violence, in support of those living in violence and in hope of ending violence.

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