An abusive relationship began for Patrice Roberts when she was just 16.
She was dating a 19-year-old, and she was out with her friends one night when he grabbed her arm, forced her into a vehicle and slapped and punched her all the way to a hotel.
She was lonely and afraid.
“Being in a relationship with any type of abuse is not love,” Roberts said.
Roberts told her story of being a victim of domestic violence to a crowd of about 1,200 people gathered at Columbia’s Finlay Park for the Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence.
She said her tumultuous relationship continued for about three years.
She tried to get away, but he would threaten her and her family members, she said.
One fight landed Roberts in the hospital, and doctors noticed bruises and marks on her body.
Law enforcement got involved and the relationship finally ended.
The former boyfriend served time for felony offenses, she said.
Abuse is not love – it’s violent emotions and feelings that are not positive, Roberts said.
To heal after abuse, a victim has to pick up the pieces of his or her life, Roberts said.
“God put you here for better than that,” she said.
Roberts is now married to a police officer she met at church, she said.
Staying connected with family and friends is important to avoid domestic violence, she said. If going directly to law enforcement is too intimidating for someone in a domestic violence situation, doctors and church leaders can be sources of help, she said.
She encourages people to learn about a person’s background before getting involved in a relationship.
And she said she is passing lessons on to her children. Her oldest son is now 16, the same age she was when she became a victim. She makes sure he and his brother are gentle with their sisters, and she encourages her daughters to get away from a relationship at the first sign of anything negative.
Domestic violence is a communitywide issue, said Antjuan Seawright, who is on the board of directors for Sistercare, an organization that provides services for domestic violence victims.
“We all have a responsibility to heal the community,” he said.
Verizon Wireless presented Sistercare with $2,000 to go toward victim services.
Columbia residents can help combat domestic violence by volunteering, donating old cellphones and learning the signs of domestic violence, said Sabrina Griffin, executive assistant at Sistercare.
Tedra Owens is the court advocate for Sistercare. She brought her 7-year-old daughter, Akira Pearson, to the walk so she can understand what’s going on and inform her peers at school about what she learns.
Owens said more awareness is a key part of ending domestic violence.
“It’s often overlooked and swept under the rug,” she said.
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.