Domestic violence survivors recount stories

April 15, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A table was set in the fellowship hall of the Central Presbyterian Church for 14 people who will never show up.

They were the 13 women and one man who have died as a result of domestic violence in Franklin and Fulton counties over the past decade. A 15th place setting represented victims from before 1988 and others who are unknown.

"An Empty Place at the Table" was part of the seventh annual Vigil Against Violence, sponsored by Women In Need Victim Services Inc., but the night also was about survivors of domestic violence. Several woman came forward to tell how they survived their ordeals.

"I was in a bad relationship. I stayed in it for 20 years. Twenty years too long," said LeeAnn. After she ended the relationship her house was burned down.


"I know in my heart who it was. This man is still stalking me," she said.

Heloise was severely beaten by a man in New York five years ago. She pretended to be dead, "but he raped me anyway," she said.

"Because he was on drugs, I had to be HIV tested," Heloise told an audience of about 100 people, many clients of Women In Need.

"I live in fear that when this man gets out of prison he will finish the job of killing me," she said.

"I can't remember when I became a victim-in-training," said one woman who did not give her first name. She recalled being raised to be polite and quiet "even when inappropriate things are done."

The woman said she eventually became "my assailant's best ally," but has since learned to stand up for herself.

Women in Need provides advocacy, counseling and other services for victims of violent crime in Franklin and Fulton counties.

According to statistics for the 1996-97 fiscal year, WIN provided services to the following:

- 250 victims of sexual assault, their families and friends.

- 1,138 new domestic violence clients.

- 483 children, including 230 new clients.

- 158 adult victims of personal injury crimes.

WIN also housed 198 women and children in its shelter. The staff and volunteers fielded 3,532 hotline calls about domestic and sexual violence.

Clay R. Yeager, the director of the Governor's Partnership for Safe Children, recounted episodes from his work. One was of a 31-year-old woman who'd had 17 children that were born crack-addicted or with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Yeager said too many children grow up "alienated, disconnected and disenfranchised ... all to often a life of doom and despair."

He said 10 million children in this country are regularly exposed to family violence and many will grow up to become victims or perpetrators of violence.

Yeager said the key to breaking the cycle is adults and communities who are committed to children.

Another woman who survived an abusive relationship may have said it best. Holding her 5-year-old son, she said he will be taught to respect women and reject violence.

"The buck stops here," she said.

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