Abuse survivor shares story to kick-start National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Celeste Plumlee, a domestic abuse survivor, speaks at the Walter Cronkite School Thursday during a news conference to launch National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

Celeste Plumlee is a survivor of domestic abuse. After nine years of living with her abuser, she was finally able to leave him, taking her 4-year-old son with her. She now encourages other victims to do the same.

She shared her story straight from the pages of her journal at the Walter Cronkite School on Thursday in her “From Bystander to Stand by Her” news conference that helped launch National Domestic Violence Awareness Month downtown.

Numerous events will take place in downtown Phoenix throughout October to showcase domestic violence survivors, remember those who did not survive and provide information for friends and family about how to get help.

Last year alone, 139 people in Arizona died as a result of domestic violence. One in four women in Arizona will be a victim of domestic violence, according to the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Women are not ready to leave until they decide they are,” Plumlee said. “I realized the only way I was going to get out was on my own two feet.”

The conference was organized by the Maricopa Association of Governments, whose Regional Domestic Violence Council provides towns, cities and nonprofit organizations in Maricopa County the resources and connections they need to stop domestic violence.

Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams spoke about the city’s specific role in preventing domestic violence.

She said the city has developed a five-year strategy plan to spread awareness, including the Paint Phoenix Purple campaign that will promote recognition of the issue this month with the symbolic color purple. The campaign includes installing purple lights at the top of Phoenix City Hall and on trees along Washington Street, painting sections of First Street purple and placing magnets on city vehicles.

“We must set an example where it is possible for members of our community to work toward a common goal — the goal of ending domestic violence,” said Williams, who was clad in a purple pantsuit.

The city of Phoenix works with the Regional Domestic Violence Council, which was formed in 2000 after the county realized domestic violence was becoming a recurring problem and they needed to raise awareness.

The council, made up of elected officials from surrounding cities and agencies, provides a regional approach to domestic violence by ensuring that Maricopa County works as a whole to help end the abuse. For example, cities such as Phoenix must share records of domestic abuse in their area with the county to prevent abusers from hurting victims across city lines.

The council also works with law enforcement officials to help them understand how abusers are arrested and what kinds of resources the county should provide victims to make sure they will prosecute their abusers.

Regional Domestic Violence Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said she has seen firsthand the destruction that domestic violence can cause and works with the council to stop it.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and we can only do that with strong leaders,” Marshall said.

Williams said by combining efforts, the downtown Phoenix community and Maricopa County region can keep victims safe and hold abusers responsible.

“As a community and a region, we must set the bar high,” Williams said. “If we work against domestic violence, we can change it.”

Contact the reporter at stacia.affelt@asu.edu