BLOOMINGTON — More than 120 people stood against domestic violence and for domestic violence survivors Monday in downtown Bloomington.

Lining three sides of the McLean County Museum of History, a cross section of Bloomington-Normal participated in a first-time domestic violence awareness rally whose focus was to get more men involved in the issue.

Most of the participants were men, including representatives of Illinois State University athletics, law enforcement, 100 Black Men of Central Illinois and churches.

"This is not a women's issue," said Matt Drat, director of resource development and community engagement for Mid Central Community Action (MCCA) that organized the rally because its services include the Countering Domestic Violence program. "This is a human issue."

One in three women and one in seven men in the United States will be physically assaulted by a partner in her or his lifetime, said Drat, adding, "Five individuals have died in McLean County of domestic violence since 2011."

"I grew up in a home where my father beat my mother on a regular basis," he said. "It is time for us to stand up and say 'enough.'"

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said "We have calls regarding domestic violence almost daily...We see it first hand. We also know it's under-reported. Anything we can do to help to raise awareness, we want to do."

Participants held up signs on which they wrote for whom they were standing.

Brein Huffman's daughter, Eunice, 3, held up a sign that said "my mom."

"I am here because I am a survivor of domestic violence," Huffman, 38, of Bloomington, told The Pantagraph after the event. "I was in a relationship with her dad for two years and I ended up leaving when she was 6 weeks old. I did it for my daughters and my son. We are setting an example for our children on how to be treated."

Huffman held up the name of a co-worker who has just come out about her domestic violence experience from a prior relationship.

"I know that domestic violence doesn't only happen to women, but it's mostly women," she said.

"Anyone who is involved in an abusive relationship should find a trusted friend to partner with to find a safe place to get out," Huffman said. Her advice to others is "Be a friend to them and let them know they are loved and supported."

John Libert of Bloomington held up a sign that said "my sister."

"I'm representing my sister, Judy, who lives in Florida and escaped a 30-year abusive marriage 15 years ago," Libert said. "Every time I and other family members tried to make a positive change, she got beaten up more."

"We need to stand up and support organizations working with men and women who need help," Libert said.

Bob Bradley of Bloomington stood up for his mother. He said his father's abuse of his mother was verbal and physical.

"It was so regular, I thought that's just what every family did," Bradley said.

"If you're in that situation, talk with someone about it," said Bradley, adding that leaving is hard because of the abuser's control of everything, but "non-judgmental help is available." 

"Men want to take an important part to bring awareness to domestic violence and to be strong to stop domestic violence in McLean County," said Jerome Maddox, representing 100 Black Men of Central Illinois. "If we can stand in harmony, we can go a long way to bring awareness to domestic violence."

ISU men's basketball coach Dan Muller said "We talk to our team a lot about domestic violence and how to treat people with respect...We feel strongly about it."

Added ISU football coach Brock Spack, "We deal with young men and we want to make sure that they understand that it's important to treat all people with respect."

Student-athletes representing the men's basketball team were Matthew Hein and Jerron Martin.

"I know a couple victims of domestic violence," Martin said. "Fortunately, nothing tragic happened. But it's something that people carry with them for the rest of their lives.

"If you see something, speak up," Martin said. "You could be the one voice that could save a person's life or stop a situation from getting worse."

Drat conceded after the rally that he'd hoped for 200 participants, but said he appreciated the diversity of the group.

"This is a great beginning," he said.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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