There are a few things Willow Tree Missions Director Rachel LeJeune would like people to take away from National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is observed each year in October.

1. Abuse can be more than physical. It can include emotional, economic and verbal abuse, among others, and can also see the use of children to keep someone in an unhealthy relationship.

2. Piatt County is not isolated from domestic violence. Willow Tree has helped 70 victims so for this year, putting it on a pace for 90 to 95 by year’s end. That would dwarf the last two years when 60 and 61 people were helped, respectively.

“I think one question that we hear a lot of times is, ‘does that really happen here?’” said LeJeune.

“Yes, yes it does” she answered.

“People tend to think of domestic violence as black eyes and broken ribs, and they don’t want to think that it happens around here, when really domestic violence and abuse is bigger than that,” said the Willow Tree director.

The organization, along with Piatt County State’s Attorney Victims Advocate Kelly Sebens, has organized “We Stand Against Domestic Violence,” a public vigil planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20 at Forest Preserve Park in Monticello. It will include a panel of those who have been affected by domestic violence, a lap around the park to honor victims, and the silhouette of a “silent warrior” that will represent those who are battling abuse in silence.

“At this event, we’re going to have a panel of speakers who are either past victims of abuse, or family members who had a family member affected by abuse,” said LeJeune. “They’ll be speaking in the pavilion, and then we will also have a lap designated around the inside of the park. People who want to just honor victims will be able to light a candle and walk a lap in honor of someone.”

The vigil will be free flowing – those who want to attend just the panel or take a dedicated lap can do so, and do not have to take part in both.

LeJeune hopes all members of the community will feel welcome to attend.

“I think that any community member could come to it. We’ve had some responses already, and some are people who have always been loyal Willow Tree supporters, but anybody who has a kind heart and cares about how to help people,” she said.

Attendees may get answers to questions they have thought about, but have been afraid to ask.

“Why does she stay? Why doesn’t she just leave? Well, that’s easier said than done. There is emotional twisting, and mental twisting,. The lies they are told by their abuser feed into that. But also the fear – I’m jumping off a cliff, who is going to catch me?” she added.

LeJeune said the community has been very supportive of Willow Tree, meeting any need that they put out to the public.

“There has never, ever been a single need that we’ve put out there that hasn’t been met in record time,” she boasted.

But the needs continue to increase, and it will take more than donations to reduce the amount of domestic abuse that occurs locally.

It will take getting involved.

“Everyone should be watching out for people. They should call the police if they hear domestic fights. Very often victims don’t want to call the police or be involved with charges being pressed, because this is the person who pays the bills. This is the person that controls all their money,” she said.

For more information on the vigil, go to www.willowtreemissions.org or call 217-631-1018.

How to get help

If you need assistance with an order of protection, no stalking order, or wish to speak with an advocate about domestic violence, Piatt County has three advocates who are available:

–Kelle Sebens, Piatt County State’s Attorney’s Victim Advocate, 217-762-2574

–Rachel LeJeune, Willow Tree Missions, 217-631-1018

–Liz Mackey, Dove, 217-762-2123