Survivors' stories raise awareness
A couple years ago, I had a difficult assignment.
On the surface, it wasn’t that much different than most. A local group was having a gathering, presenting some awards and doing various other things that usually get some space in the newspaper.
I knew what to expect. Or, at least, I thought I did.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and a local crisis center had planned a public event. They planned to release balloons, present awards, have speakers and hold a candlelight vigil.
I expected a couple of hours of standing around, highlighted by brief moments of activity as I took photos and documented the event.
I got that, but then I got something I didn’t expect as I listened to firsthand accounts of domestic violence from survivors and family members. I got some real perspective.
I’ve been around the block a few times, covering the police beat and criminal courts in two states, so I have some notion of what people can do to each other, even those who supposedly love each other.
What I wasn’t aware of was the effect those actions had on everyone involved.
By necessity, police reports are fairly straightforward, almost clinical in nature, describing the scene and laying out witness statements.
“Suspect restrained victim.”
“Suspect struck victim several times with a closed fist.”
“Officers found bloody handprints on the wall.”
“Witness 1 stated that suspect had made threats against victim on multiple occasions.”
While those reports offer up all the details of an incident, they don’t really convey the emotional toll such events have on the victims, or even friends and family of the victims, many of whom can also be considered victims as well.
One of the speakers was a teenager, a young man who, as a child, witnessed his birth father attack his mother on multiple occasions before ultimately self-destructing and ending up in prison.
That young man is safe now. His mother remarried and he’s in a stable environment. And yet he’s still scarred, scared to death he’ll end up like his father.
He showed his strength, standing tall before a small crowd, telling his story, how he’s found strength through God, and vowing that he would not be the same kind of person as the man who fathered him.
That’s not a burden I’d wish on anyone, let alone a child.
Another speaker, this time a young woman, told a story of her abuser, an older man who cultivated a relationship with her while she was a college student. She told those gathered how he had manipulated her, humiliated her and ultimately assaulted her.
She had help getting out of that relationship. She was lucky, but her emotional scars were plain to see.
The third speaker was a mother who witnessed her daughter go through a similar situation.
Through tears and with a broken voice, she told the story of how she and her husband did everything in their power to help their daughter get away from an abusive situation. It ended up with both of them shot, bleeding into the dirt.
The mother told her husband not to die. If he did, so would she and no one would be left to help the daughter.
They survived, but the pain is still real. Her daughter, she said, still couldn’t talk about what had happened, so her mother stepped up in hopes that their shared story would give someone else the strength they needed.
These stories hit me like a punch to the gut. Seeing the faces of these people, feeling their pain, made me want to leave, to escape. I didn’t want to hear any more.
It was actually painful, hearing how cruel one person can be to another.
Perhaps that’s just the tiniest fraction of what these people must have felt when they were living in these terrible situations.
In the end, I also saw their strength, their power, their survivor’s nature. These stories need to be told, even if they are hard to hear.
Victims of domestic violence need to know they’re not alone. There’s a way out, and resources to help make it happen.
We all should stand ready to help — and to listen.
No matter how uncomfortable it makes us.