This month, we are celebrating the women who have provided a lifeline to those who need it most.

By Carrie Vittitoe | Photos by Heather Florance

Since 1988, The Center for Women and Families has honored women in the community whose volunteer efforts have made a distinct contribution to the wellbeing of the community. This year’s Women of Distinction honorees offer their insights on how domestic violence impacts the community and their words of hope and encouragement to families whose lives have been touched by domestic turmoil.

KARINA BARILLAS, Executive Director, La Casita Center

Domestic violence impacts women of all races, religions, classes, and creeds. How do you see domestic violence impacting women in the Latinx community?

When a Latina woman is being victimized, the whole Latinx community is affected. Latinx women face barriers that keep them trapped in abusive relationships: not being able to speak English, not reading and writing in any language, racism, lack of access to transportation, and lack of meaningful access to services.

How can the greater Louisville community work to be advocates and allies of women and children who have experienced domestic violence?

Reject any kind of injustice, objectification, and inequity that affects girls and women. Also, support with time and treasure organizations that work to end gender inequity, oppression, and discrimination … recognize that we are ONE community, [and] if one person is free from violence, the whole community grows towards a better tomorrow.

“Working against violence against women and children is not a choice or a job for me.  It is a personal issue. It is my life’s mission and my life’s purpose.  Growing up facing incredibly challenging and painful situations and surviving horrible abuse towards my mother, my siblings and me, gave me the most powerful tool that I can possess in my daily work: hope.”

YVETTE GENTRY, Director of Justice and Opportunity, Metro United Way; former chief, Louisville Metro Police Department

What message of hope would you give to women suffering domestic violence?

I served as a domestic violence detective for several years, [and] I have seen countless women that seemed to be in dire situations focus themselves, devise a plan, and successfully leave their abuser. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. There are resources and people willing to support you through every step. You only have to take the first one yourself.

How does resilience relate to both women who’ve experienced domestic violence and the women in leadership positions who have tried to help these women?

It is said that everything easy has already been done. Leading and living is hard work. I think when you come to terms with that your mindset shifts. Resilience is being able to put things behind you and keep moving forward and no matter where you are or what you do for a living the process for change always begins with – a decision to try.

“Stop normalizing violent behavior. Do not protect abusers in the family and reach out to friends and family members that may have withdrawn from them due to a relationship. That is often a tactic of the abuser that you must be mindful of and not allow.”

BETTY WINSTON BAYÉ, journalist, author, and motivational speaker; former Courier-Journal reporter, assistant editor, editorial writer, and columnist

As a journalist, why do you think it is important to shed light on the epidemic of domestic violence?

It’s the job of journalists, not simply to guard our increasingly fragile democracy, but to shine light and encourage systemic change on behalf of vulnerable individuals, families, and communities. Victims of domestic violence, including children who far too often are collateral damage, are an oppressed class. Domestic violence is a worldwide scourge that journalists are obliged to cover with the same fervor as we do politics, inflation, and social discord.

What does it mean for you personally to be an advocate and ally to women survivors of domestic violence?

My life’s purpose is to advocate for justice for people often hiding in plain sight and that includes women survivors of domestic violence. They’re all around us but remain silent because they are terrorized or because they fear harsh judgment by people blessed never to have had to walk a mile in their shoes.

“As an individual, my advocacy is to listen and to be compassionate. As a journalist, my job is to tell their stories so often that ignorance is never an excuse for inaction.”

THE HONORABLE TARA HAGERTY, Jefferson County Family Court, 30th Judicial Circuit

As a judge, how have you seen domestic violence impact women and their families who have come into your courtroom?

For women, domestic violence destroys their self-esteem and self-confidence [and often] causes the woman to be alienated from her family and friends and other support systems. Then, of course, there is great physical danger. For the children, not just actually witnessing domestic violence but knowing that your caregiver is a victim of domestic violence, is a life-altering traumatic event. It affects their ability to bond with and trust others. In very young children the trauma can even affect their brain development.

Describe the resilience you have witnessed in women who have survived domestic violence?

Every time a woman seeks help, by calling the police, seeking legal protection, telling a medical provider about the abuse … it is an act of resilience and courage.

“It is so easy for outsiders looking in to wonder why victims don’t leave earlier or seek support. The dynamics of domestic violence make it very hard for victims to leave.”

DIANE PORTER, District 1 Representative, Jefferson County Board of Education

What are the effects of domestic violence in families of the district? 

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine estimates domestic violence cases increased 25-33% due to Covid-19.  This means the prevalence of violence has likely increased also. [While] JCPS does not collect data at the district level about the impact of domestic violence on our youth, we are trained to watch for unexpected behavior and emotions from our students and our families.

Why has it been important for you personally to try to address domestic violence in whatever way you can?

I was a JCPS educator for years before retirement. As an educator, I consistently work for access and opportunity for all students. Every job in education emphasizes the importance of developing relationships with students, staff, and families. Domestic violence students/families need immediate support and guidance. Working together enhances the potential of success. Everyone deserves an opportunity to have a safe, healthy, caring living environment.

“Women are strong, but life consists of unexpected changes/challenges. Supporting and working together provides confidence and determination to move forward.  Embracing and encouraging others makes a difference – it spotlights and opens the door of HOPE that will never be closed.”