LIHUE — It has been nearly 16 years since Gigi Quinn left her now ex-husband after suffering years of domestic abuse.
She had, at the time, no job, only one suitcase full of clothes in her hand and hope for a new life as she walked into the front doors of a YWCA family violence shelter.
“One of the things that you lose in a violent relationship is your sense of self,” Quinn said. “By the time I was done with that relationship, I had no idea who I was, what I was going to do or where I was going to go.”
Quinn now works for the YWCA of Kauai and said she looks forward to giving back to an organization that has given her so much over the years.
“This community has really embraced me and this a chance to give back to them,” Quinn said.
It is a commitment that she and dozens of community members reaffirmed Wednesday night during YWCA Kauai’s annual candlelight vigil at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihue, where candles were lit to remember those who have died and stories and songs were shared by survivors.
The vigil, now in its 28th year, has been held annually during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and coincides with the YWCA’s National Week Without Violence, which is running this year from Oct. 14 – 20.
In all, the names of seven domestic violence victims killed this year in Hawaii were called out during the vigil, including Kendra “Kenny” Lewis, a part-time Anchorage, Alaska resident, who was found stabbed to death in her Kapaa apartment in April.
Lewis’ boyfriend at the time, Steven M. Wilson, has been charged with second-degree murder in her death and is currently set to stand trial in February in 5th Circuit Court, according to court documents.
One of the unique aspects of the vigil, Hamilton said, is that it is open to everyone, including domestic violence perpetrators seeking help from YWCA Kauai.
“It helps them in terms of our goal of increasing their victim empathy and understanding what happens with violence that they perpetrate on other people,” Hamilton said. “I know that I’ve talked to some of them in the past and it really moves them.”
Several, she said, even spoke at past vigils.
“It was very powerful — it really was,” Hamilton said. “You could really see, hear and feel that they would not re-offend — they were doing everything they could do to not re-offend.”
Andrea Makepa, a YWCA Kauai employee and domestic violence survivor, said she shared her story for the first time on Wednesday, so she could empower others and give victims hope.
“What I went through in my own life from childhood to my marriage, I suffered severely and it damaged me emotionally,” Makepa said. “It was one of the hardest things in my life to be able to rebuild myself — it’s almost like I had to be reborn again to get a self-identity, reclaim my self-worth and love myself again. It’s important to me to give back to women, especially, to give them hope and to tell them that they’re not alone — you can survive and do it.”
The goal, Hamilton said, is to increase domestic violence awareness by putting a face and a story to an issue that continues to be a steady problem nationwide.
Over the past year, a total of 906 calls were made to YWCA Kauai’s domestic violence hotline and 4,000 bed days were used by domestic violence victims and their families at the YWCA Family Violence Shelter, according to YWCA Kauai statistics.