Tree-lighting event brings the issue of domestic violence to forefront

By Randy Gonzales
Special to the Hays Daily News

If a person is a victim of domestic violence, there are options.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To bring awareness to the issue, Options Domestic & Sexual Violence Services held a tree lighting ceremony Thursday evening at Union Pacific Plaza in downtown Hays. At dusk, a tree was lit with purple lights to represent domestic violence and show support for survivors; purple is the color of choice. At the end of the ceremony, the approximately dozen supporters in attendance were each offered a purple light bulb.

“The purpose of the event is to bring awareness in the community about domestic violence,” Options executive director Jennifer Hecker said. “Purple light night is about shining a light on domestic violence and purple is the color of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”

The tree lighting started in 2016. This year, for the first time, local beauty salons were invited to participate, decorating their windows in purple. Salon decorating winners were announced at Thursday’s ceremony.

A tree at Union Pacific Plaza was lit with purple lights at a ceremony Thursday evening to highlight awareness as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“For women, talking to their stylist is something that just sort of naturally happens,” Hecker said. “They build a relationship over time. Sometimes, they are the first person (victims) may disclose to, or someone might start to notice changes and be able to broach that very difficult subject with a client.”

MIchelle Desbien, owner of Desbien Designs Salon, 117 West Eighth, had a Christmas tree decorated with purple lights in the shop’s window. The salon won the prize for most whimsical display. When asked if she would like to participate in the contest, Desbien did not hesitate.

Michelle Desbien, middle, owner of Desbien Designs Salon, is with employees Kaylyn Weems, left, and McKenzie Taylor as they stand next to their entry for a contest as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. They have a Christmas tree decorated with purple lights in the shop’s window.

“I think it’s a fantastic thing,” Desbien said. “I do think the word needs to be spread. People will sit in our chair and will tell us things they won’t tell their own family members,” she added. “We hear a lot.”

Other salon winners announced Thursday were: Brickhouse Day Spa, best purple flowers; Emerald Image Salon, best use of purple ribbons; Salon Ten O Seven, most informational; J Studio & Salon, most astonishing; Hays Academy of Hair Design, most locally driven; Park Avenue Salon, most statistically driven; Salon MUAH, most illuminating.

Thursday’s event shines a light on the issue. Hecker said Hays is not immune when it comes to domestic violence.

“As a community, we don’t know how pervasive it is,” Hecker said. “We, as a community, don’t realize how dangerous it is.”

Hecker said the first two weeks a person leaves an abuser is the time period when it is the most dangerous. That is when a person is most likely to be murdered by the abuser, Hecker said.

“As a community, we expect people to tell the police, and they will turn into prosecuted crimes,” Hecker said. “It’s very hard to get those convictions.”

In October 1983, individuals in Hays partnered with Fort Hays State University to form an agency to meet the needs of domestic violence victims in northwest Kansas. The organization was first known as Northwest Kansas Family Shelter and was renamed Options in 2011. There are offices in Hays and Colby.

“It really is about making sure people know the community stands behind them if they are suffering in silence in abuse,” Hecker said. “There are people there to help them, and to send a message that domestic violence is not tolerated in our community.”

Options offers 24-hour support services. The service is free and confidential. In addition to being found on social media, among the ways a person can receive assistance is through the organization’s website or stopping by the office at 2716 Plaza Avenue. The 24-hour services include a help line at 800-794-4624 or a person can text HOPE to 847411 to reach an advocate.