Savannah Vargas said she was in her late teens when she met, and ultimately fell for, a guy she thought she could spend the rest of her life with.

It didn’t take long for the relationship to become volatile, however, as she said this man whom she thought loved her became controlling and abusive. After moving away from her family in Lompoc to live with this man on the other side of the country, Vargas said she finally reached a point where she knew she had to leave the relationship.

After expressing her desire to her now ex-boyfriend, she said she was made to feel like a “hostage” and ended up holed up in a hotel while her family worked to bring her back home.

“If it wasn’t for my family I don’t know if I would be standing here today telling you my story,” she said.

Vargas shared her deeply personal history in front of a group of about 50 community members Thursday evening at Lompoc’s Centennial Park. Her tale of survival was among several emotional facets — some somber, some uplifting — of the 30th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil put on by several area agencies.

“We don’t hear about the support women get from their families; we just usually hear about the negatives,” Vargas said from in front of the park’s gazebo as the sun set to her right. “I’m forever thankful for my family and knowing that they did everything they could to possibly help me, no matter the cost or the effort.”

Vargas concluded her remarks with a message to anyone who may be going through something similar to what she endured.

“All you ladies or young women who are just now realizing that you are or may be in an abusive relationship — whether it’s physical, emotional, verbal, financial, or even mental — don’t ignore the red flags,” she said. “Don’t assume it’s going to get better or that it’s going to go away. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself or even others and get help.

"Helping and taking care of each other is the most important thing in these kinds of situations," she added. "Your life is way too special to have a man tearing you down and belittling you as his object.”

The event also included remarks from activist and former Lompoc mayor Joyce Howerton, and Steve Foley, a senior deputy district attorney with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, and poetry readings from members of Lompoc High School’s Brave Women Club.

Additionally, 11 participants read brief bios of women from the area who were suspected of having been killed by abusive partners; members of the Lompoc High cheer dance team performed a dance routine; artist Kaitlyn Chui performed a song; and almost all of the attendees joined together for a candlelit walk up and back down a couple blocks of H Street.

Foley, referencing the recent shooting in Las Vegas, noted that the popular mantra of “if you see something, say something” has continued to be a “battle cry for America, and the world, right now as we face the aftermath of another targeted mass killing.”

He said that the slogan has seemingly worked well to bring domestic violence calls down from the levels of the 1990s, but noted that they have again been rising over the last few years.

He said that sometimes it can be hard to see something happening in private, so people must look for the signs.

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“We must continue to try to bring what happens behind closed doors out into the public for all to see,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to take away that stigma and that shame of being a domestic violence victim. Survivors of domestic violence need to know their lives will improve and their lives will not end if they report the crime. By that same token, if we treat abusers as unredeemable, then they too will take their violence and push it even further underground.”

Thursday’s event was the first of three scheduled to be held around the county this month, which is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The next event is scheduled for Oct. 19 at the Paseo Nuevo Mall in Santa Barbara. That event will begin with a community resource fair at 4 p.m., a vigil at 6 p.m. and a memorial walk at 6:30 p.m.

The third ceremony will take place Oct. 26 at the Ethel Pope Auditorium at Santa Maria High School. That event will begin with a memorial walk, starting at City Hall, at 6 p.m. and a vigil at 6:30 p.m.

Among the organizing agencies for the vigils is the county District Attorney’s Office, the Victim Witness Program, the Lompoc Police Department, the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, and Domestic Violence Solutions.

Howerton opened her remarks Thursday by recalling how she has been involved in the fight to curtail domestic violence for several decades. She said she was hopeful that education events like these vigils would lead to a future where “we can say, ‘Remember when we had to worry about domestic violence? Remember when we had to have vigils to remember the people that were victims and to empower the people that are survivors? Remember that?’

“I just hope I’m around to remember that,” she said.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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