Soldier helps others after sister's death
September 5, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 5, 2012) -- October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but it's never too early to shed light on the subject for one Fort Lee Soldier.
Sgt. 1st Class Lequante Harris said the topic is much too important to be confined to a 30-day space on the calendar or marginalized in any way. She has good reason to feel that way. Her sister, Marquita Ann Brown, was murdered more than two years ago by a boyfriend with whom she had an abusive relationship. The incident garnered national attention due to the circumstances surrounding the killing -- Harris' sister was shot at point-blank range and her 5-year-old nephew's heart-wrenching 9-1-1 call shortly after the crime was widely carried by the news media.
Profoundly impacted by the incident, Harris said she grieved long after the event that "shattered her into a million pieces." She said she has slowly put herself back together and is now in a place of inspiration, embarking on a personal crusade to educate and increase awareness about domestic violence.
"I can't leave it be," she said of her sister's murder, "because I feel like if nothing is done, her death would be in vain. I know that there are so many more women and men out there who are being abused."
According to statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million people (mostly women) are assaulted yearly by intimate partners, and most cases are never reported to law enforcement.
"I consider it to be a silent crime," said Harris. "No one wants to talk about it; no one wants to get involved with it."
If there is anyone with the character to dive headfirst into such an endeavor, it's Harris, said 1st Lt. Maurice Golden, her executive officer at Mike Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd QM Brigade. He said she has dealt with her sister's death with strength and grace, attributes that might help to counteract the taboo associated with the subject.
"Despite her past," he said, "she has overcome a great deal and still maintains a very prosperous career… if you didn't really know her, you would have never known about her sister's life and how it affected her."
Harris is quietly making an impact. She said she has developed a domestic abuse slide show and has spent the last year sharing her story through military briefings and training. Her goal is to elevate the subject of domestic violence to that of sexual harassment and sexual assault, currently the focus of a yearly and comprehensive Army-mandated internal communications effort.
"What I'm trying to do is to bring more awareness," she said. "I've gone to briefings and have met people who didn't realize they were in an abusive relationship until after the briefing."
Indeed, ignorance plays a part in the prevalence of domestic abuse, Harris said, and more needs to be done to reach people who ignore signs of potential abuse or who are not familiar with its complexity.
"Many people know someone who has survived, but I know someone who was murdered," she said, noting her story makes for a compelling lesson. "I try to force upon them some realization. We get these (Army) briefings all the time, and some of us don't take them seriously because we keep going over the same material. There is never really a personal story attached to it, and no one ever wants to talk about how they were abused or whether or not they did the abusing."
Harris said she doesn't mind stepping up to educate, even though with almost every briefing, she has to relive all the details of her sister's murder.
"I am willing to come forward to say, 'Hey, I lost a sister due to domestic violence,'" she said. "That's real. The same thing that you see on the TV news about families going through domestic violence, my family went through it as well. I don't mind telling my sister's story because it's worth it if I can touch just one person, make one person realize that they might be in an abusive relationship or that they may be an abuser."
Harris said her future plans are to continue sharing her story during training sessions and to start a non-profit advocacy organization -- The MAB Project -- which will carry the mission of prevention, education and support for those affected by domestic violence.
"We'll try to bring more awareness to the things that happen in relationships prior to the incidence of domestic violence," she said, noting there will be no cost to the services. "I want to provide support for all types of couples -- married, not married or same sex -- because I think everyone deserves the opportunity to have a great relationship."
Harris is due to depart Fort Lee within the coming week.