FAYETTEVILLE -- The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks hosted a moment of awareness on domestic abuse Wednesday during an event attended by at least 40 people, and including silent reminders of hundreds who could not.
T-shirts, many in infant and child sizes, adorned the walls and windows of the system's specialty care building in Fayetteville during the 10 a.m. event. Each garment represented someone killed in Arkansas by domestic violence, and each shirt was decorated by family members or volunteers. The shirts included two dedicated to former veterans who worked at the Fayetteville facility: James Stan McGehee, 59, and Richard Shane Brotherton, 50. They were killed in separate incidents in 2021.
The Clothesline Project of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence takes the T-shirts to events around the state, said Brandy Dailey of North Little Rock, community response coordinator for the coalition. Dailey spoke during Wednesday's event.
The coalition maintains a shirt for each fatal victim of domestic violence over the past 10 years, each bearing painted images and decorations ranging from the favorite toys of the child victims, to poems and other remembrances of the adults. So many shirts hung from lines Wednesday that the main hall of the building could not hold them all. They overflowed into and filled side aisles. The collection has almost reached 800 shirts so far, Dailey said. After 10 years, each shirt goes back to the community or family member it came from, she said.
Arkansas has the fourth highest rate of domestic violence deaths per 100,000 population of the 50 states, according to the latest available figures, Dailey said. Those figures are from 2021 and were compiled by the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, she said.
Every patient at the Ozarks VA Center receives a screening for domestic and intimate partner violence, said Andrea Predl of Fayetteville, the center's anti-violence program coordinator and a therapist there. Domestic violence is committed by someone living in the household, she explained. Intimate partner violence comes from partners or ex-partners who are separated from their targets, sometimes for years, she said. Different types of abuse require different responses. Material on appropriate responses and resources was made available at Wednesday's event.
The awareness event closed with a reading of the names of all 45 Arkansans who died from domestic or intimate partner violence in 2020. They ranged in age from 1 year old to 83.
The key advice given at the event: Don't ask why. Ask what -- what can you do to help. Asking why someone commits abuse pushes blame onto the victims, speakers said.