by Chrystal Hall
One in three women experience domestic violence during their lifetime, most commonly between the ages of 18 and 24. Kemba Smith presented her story on March 22 as a part of the college’s Women’s Forum 2016. When Smith was a college freshman she found herself in a four yearlong abusive relationship with a crack-cocaine dealing classmate.
Smith began by telling the audience that she is very open about her experience and she hopes the young people in the audience will learn from her so no one has to go through what she did. The audience was almost exclusively women. There were women of all ages and backgrounds who came together to educate their daughters or themselves on an all too common occurrence within relationships. Emotions in the room were palpable. The audience members applauded Smith’s constant strength and poise telling her touching but difficult story. Everyone in attendance was fully moved by the presentation.
Her freshman year at Hampton College, Smith became romantically involved with Peter, a popular older man on campus known to sell drugs. Their relationship lasted the majority of her college career and ended when she turned herself into prison, seven months pregnant and after years of physical, emotional, mental abuse.
One of the first times she was abused, he strangled her to the point that blood vessels popped in her head and eyes. The next morning, when she stopped by some of her best friends’ house to gather some belongings none of them questioned her appearance. As she now states, her friends should have noticed, relationships are not just romantic and your friendships can be just as important as the relationship with the abuser.
At the beginning, Smith’s story seems like the start to a common college relationship. This is where the problem lies. Ms. Smith is a well educated and was raised in a loving and supportive household similar to the households the majority of Roanoke College students are raised in. Despite this, she still found herself in an abusive relationship.
Male and female college students around the world need to know her story. She saw the red flags, but, in her own words, “Sometimes you can become as blind as a bat cause you’re so happy to be in a relationship.” This is the source of one of her main messages; you must love yourself first. Throughout her speech, Smith accentuated this point. If she had loved herself more she would not have found herself in the position that she ended up in.
As adolescents we are taught to look for the red flags that Smith mentioned. We are taught to advocate for friends and to never allow ourselves to be manipulated into any level of abuse. Yet, almost half of all women fall victim to these very kinds of relationships at some point in their lives.
Smith’s story is eye opening. It demonstrates how little adolescents are actually taught about domestic abuse and about the court system. It also highlights the lack of education and support offered by the majority of higher education institutions.
Even at Roanoke cases involving abuse in and out of relationships are not uncommon. Yet, the majority of the student body remains unaware of these events or the signs that they could be the one who needs to seek help. A commendable step is to continue to bring educators and advocates like Smith to campuses to spur the education of today’s youths and prevent abuse.
It is an issue that all of the audience members were women because men need the education just as much as women do. Moreover, men need to learn that domestic abuse does not just happen to women. One in four men is abused in this way at some point in their life. These traumas affect a person throughout their life and therefore must be dealt with.