St. Johns County nonprofit honors lives lost to domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Month, and on Thursday night, a local nonprofit honored the lives lost to abusive relationships.

The Betty Griffin Center hosted the event at the St. Johns County Courthouse, the very place where many local domestic violence survivors have taken steps to separate themselves from abusive relationships.

Organizers brought cut-outs representing the 34 lives they say have been lost to domestic violence in the county since 1994.

“I happen to be a survivor, 17 years this year,” said Marie Colee.

Colee said without a program like this one, she’d likely be dead.

“I moved to Florida in 1978, and that’s when I met my abuser. And I had the help of a local shelter that got me out of that situation,” Colee said.

The Betty Griffin Center said St. Johns County is the 14th fastest growing county in the nation, and they say they’re seeing more domestic violence as the population increases.

They say they’ve seen a 50-percent increase in the use of their services, as shelters and temporary housing are over capacity.

“We’re continuously seeing an increase in domestic violence, and so what we to do is to really talk to those survivors that are out there, saying Betty Griffin House is here,” said CEO Joyce Mahr.

Mahr said more than 7,800 children in the county are exposed to domestic violence every year, and nearly 7,000 women may have experienced intimate partner violence during their lives.

Colee just hopes victims see demonstrations like this one and seek help.

“If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please know that there are people out there to help you,” Colee said.