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Saying Goodbye to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault


by Mindy Miller


It was a day that ended with a kiss.


In fairytales, kisses cure a multitude of ills, but while this was no fairytale, a group of women at The Rising Center discovered that a symbolic kiss from their own lips could very well be a powerful thing. 


Last Friday, Jan. 8, Haley Wheeler, a contestant for the crown of Miss Kentucky 2016, visited the Center’s staff and clients, sharing thoughts and inspiration from her platform project, “Kiss Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Goodbye!” 


Wheeler, who hails from Powell County and has family in nearby Breathitt County, was drawn to the subject due to her aunt’s own domestic violence nightmare. 


“It inspired me to help women and men like her, because it happens every nine seconds,” Wheeler said. “That’s alarming that it happens that often, and I think something needs to be done about that.” 


According to studies done by The Center for Women and Families, 1 in 3 women in the state of Kentucky will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Additionally, 1 in 9 Kentucky women has been forcibly raped. 


For 18-year-old Wheeler, reaching out to these women has become her life’s greatest calling. 


“This problem is widespread, and it doesn’t discriminate against any sort of background or anything like that,” she said. 


“Survivors need empowerment,” Wheeler continued. “They need confidence. Because after being told you’re nothing for so long, you need that confidence [restored].”


Wheeler said she developed the idea for the project while doing a simple task she does every day – applying lipstick. She said the act of putting on lipstick automatically causes her spirits to rise and makes her feel so much better about herself.


“Then, I wondered if all women feel this way,” she noted. “This project is about making them feel good on the inside by giving them a small tool, like a lipstick. It’s just giving them the attention and the pampering they really deserve.”


So far, Wheeler said she has collected 67 lipsticks from donors throughout Kentucky and even as far away as Chicago and Michigan. She brought all of the lipsticks with her, telling the women to choose one to keep. 


In addition to a motivational speech and tips for successful job interviews, Wheeler spent the day teaching the women various makeup techniques, including how to create the perfect Cupid’s bow with a swipe of lipstick.


Afterwards, the women pressed their finished lips to a mostly blank canvas, which bore only the date and the words “A Kiss Goodbye.”


“Not only have they created a beautiful work of art, but it’s also going to be displayed here in The Rising Center so that when people visit here, they will see it as a sign of hope,” Wheeler explained. 


Many of the women present cried and expressed their gratitude for the day, calling the event “truly wonderful.” 


Wheeler also praised The Rising Center, declaring it to be “a great resource” for women and men in the area. Due to the prevalence of violence against women, Wheeler said the existence of such centers should be as common in small towns as a McDonald’s. 


“This is the first time I’ve ever gotten to interact with survivors face to face,” she said. “It’s been an incredible experience, and I feel truly blessed.”


As time goes forward, Wheeler said she hopes to be a voice and a face for these women. 


“Honestly, I just want to give them that confidence back that they’ve had taken away for such a long time,” she added. “I think they deserve it. It’s time that they felt beautiful again.”


And with Wheeler’s guiding hand, they certainly seemed to feel just that, stealing glances in a mirror from time to time or smiling to each other across the room. 


“We were blessed and honored to have Haley here today to present her platform to our clients,” said Jennifer Riley-Bowling, a Victims Advocate at The Rising Center. “She is a good example of showing how beauty, as a form of self-care, can help raise self-esteem, bring someone’s morale back up, and empower trauma victims.”


“Once somebody has been in a situation of domestic violence or sexual assault, it diminishes their self-esteem and self-worth,” Riley-Bowling continued. “Realizing your own value and self-worth is the first step to healing.” 


Wheeler, currently a student at Western Kentucky University, begins her quest for Miss Kentucky as Miss Mammoth Cave Area on June 30 in Lexington. The winner will be crowned on July 2.