Local center looks to start domestic violence conversation with new billboards, lethality campaign

NOW: Local center looks to start domestic violence conversation with new billboards, lethality campaign

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- More than 90 billboards can now be seen across the Milwaukee metro area, all reading: "99.9386 percent."

Carmen Pitre, president and CEO at Sojourner Family Peace Center, said "99.9386 percent of the time, when people reach out to us, they survive an abusive relationship. Reaching out is vital. It could save your life."

According to Sojourner's records, Milwaukee recorded a record-high 51 domestic violence-related deaths in 2020. That number was 40 in 2021 and so far in 2022, 15 domestic violence-related deaths have been reported by Sojourner.

"In my career, over 37 years, we normally would hit 12 to 18," Pitre explained, saying numbers are significantly higher in recent years. "A bad year would be 25 domestic violence homicides."

Pitre was joined at the campaign's unveiling Monday morning by Captain Gary Babrish with the Wauwatosa Police Department, and Megan Paulson, a domestic violence survivor who came to Sojourner for support five years ago.

"The violence wasn't always constant, but it was steady," Paulson said, describing the abusive relationship she found herself in. "The last and final episode was so scary; one that I really believed, had we not had somebody intervene in that episode, I would have died."

Paulson is hopeful the campaign will encourage those suffering from domestic violence to speak out. She also wants to let them know they are not alone and help is out there.

"You can do it," Paulson said. "Nobody deserves to have anyone's hands put on them in violence, ever. There's no excuse. It's not your fault. We need to make sure we're encouraging, messaging to victims that very same thing."

In addition to the billboards, which are set to be in place until early September, Pitre is also calling on area businesses to place window clings on their exit doors that signal to those suffering from domestic abuse that there is always a way out of an abusive relationship.

"We're asking businesses, anywhere there's an exit sign, you could put one of these stickers. You could put them on the inside of bathroom stalls, on exit doors," Pitre said. "We want to start and continue this vital conversation. We need to all be talking about this issue."

Pitre also had an important message for those suffering from domestic abuse.

"We're not saying to survivors you have to leave. Many survivors do not want to leave. What we're saying is reaching out could save your life," Pitre said. "Leaving is not always part of the equation. Sometimes, survivors don't reach out to us because they think we're saying you have to leave. We want people to know when you reach out, what you're doing is making a connection with someone else."

For more information about Sojourner Family Peace Center and other domestic violence resources in the area, visit here or call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 414-933-2722.

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