LIHUE — Kaleb was with friends when his ex-wife walked in, poured a drink on his head and punched him in the face.
His friends laughed, but it was not the first time he had been abused, and it would not be the last.
“I survived some things,” he said Wednesday night before about 175 people at St. Michael and All Angels Church for the annual candlelight vigil to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I was a survivor long before and long since I had anyone beating on me or controlling where I went, spent my money or who I talked to,” Kaleb said.
The theme of the event, put on by the YWCA for more than 25 years, was “Listen; I have a Voice” with an emphasis on what people can do to help end family violence. It included songs, reading of names of victims of domestic violence in Hawaii and a moment of silence.
“We want the victims and survivors to be heard,” said emcee Gigi Quinn.
Diane Wada, co-director of YWCA shelter, said they want to make domestic violence an important community issue. It shouldn’t be something that happens inside a home and neighbors close their doors and windows. It’s not an individual issue.
“The way you get people to understand is to hear stories,” Wada said. “We can give statistics, if you have someone tell their stories people get it at a deeper level.”
She said if someone hears fighting going on in a home, they should call police.
“Don’t ignore it,” Wada said. “We all need to get involved.”
Renae Hamilton, YWCA executive director, said the organization is working 24/7 to end violence in the home. It offers crisis services, victim and offender treatment, prevention education courses and even a camp.
She wants people facing abusive situations to know there is help available, there is a safe place they can go.
“We will continue to work until we have reached our goal,” she said. “Collectively, we can end domestic violence on Kauai.”
Like Wada, she called on the community for help and a willingness to take a stand.
“We also want you to find your voice,” she said.
Key is listening to the voices of the survivors, like Kaleb.
He said it’s a human rights issue that can be stopped when people stand together.
“We can change the world, not just an island,” he said.
He often blamed himself for the abuse. He was racked with doubt, self-loathing and fear. It was his fault, he thought, he didn’t make his ex-wife happy because he was a terrible husband. He made himself a captive, he said, by allowing himself to feel that way.
“The reality is, you can not take everything as your own fault unless you also believe you are all powerful,” Kaleb said.
He eventually faced his fears and escaped his shackles. His wounds, physical and emotional, healed over time. He learned to move forward and to start again.
“I won’t be a victim,” Kaleb said.