GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about domestic abuse and the many forms it can take.

The Center for Family Violence Prevention held its fifth annual Domestic Violence Impact Luncheon on Thursday. The message this year was, “A Culture of Silence: Driving Awareness for Emotional Abuse.”

“We know that bruises can heal, but what’s on the inside of us, our self-esteem and those kinds of things many times go on and on from childhood right on up to adulthood, so we want to call awareness to that,” said Minerva Freeman, a board member at the Center for Family Violence Prevention.

The event’s guest speaker, Dr. Jan Newell-Byrd, said she survived more than 40 years of domestic abuse, and that the culture of silence is why many victims stay in abusive situations. She said there needs to be more awareness and education about domestic abuse.

“Victims don’t get help, they don’t even know sometimes that they are a victim based on culture. It’s important. I was silent because I was so ashamed, so embarrassed, my self-esteem was non-existent, I just thought something was wrong with me,” Newell-Byrd said.

“It’s so pervasive. It’s everywhere. You always think about the physical violence, but we don’t think about the verbal, the emotional, and the gaslighting. That’s the thing that is so damaging.”

The Center for Family Violence Prevention provides domestic violence support services in Pitt, Martin, and Washington counties. Services include safe houses, court advocacy and counseling. The luncheon and auction on Thursday raised funds to allow the center to continue and expand those services.

“The chances of a victim being murdered increases 75% when they leave their abuser. And to do it on your own is difficult, it’s scary, and it’s extremely dangerous, and we can help with a plan to at least improve those odds. We welcome anybody that needs to talk to us, even if they’re not sure about their situation, we can help them sort that out,” said Executive Director of the Center for Family Violence Prevention, Laura King.

The Center for Family Violence Prevention will be holding a candlelight vigil on October 20 at 6 p.m. at the Pitt County Courthouse to remember victims of domestic violence homicide.