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Victims of violence speak at vigil

April 21, 2007|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Julie Alleman could not fight her tears as she watched her daughter from across the red and brown bricks of the Chambersburg courthouse plaza.

"I will write to him and tell him I have moved on," 16-year-old Ashley Alleman said to the crowd gathered on Saturday to honor the many victims of violence.

Removing the glistening drop from her cheek, Alleman clapped as Ashley finished speaking out against the abuse she endured.

For the last three years, Ashley has attended the 16th annual Vigil Against Violence in Chambersburg, but never before has she told so many people her story.

"I felt like it was time to come and speak out," she said. "Why should I have to hide?"

Yet every day, many people hide behind the curtain of abuse, said Stacy McCole, education coordinator of Chambersburg-based Women In Need (WIN) Victims Services.

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Each year, WIN works with thousands of abuse victims, providing counseling, shelter, and medical and legal assistance.

The vigil hosted Saturday morning by WIN not only honored victims, but raised community awareness of domestic and sexual violence.

McCole said the event coincides with National Crime Victim's Rights Week and Child Abuse Prevention Month to increase community support and consciousness for victims.

In spite of national initiatives against violence, many people still live like J.J. Graham of Shippensburg, Pa., once lived, afraid to confront their abuser, guilted into believing they are at fault.

"I really loved my abuser," Graham said. "I have never really loved anyone like I loved him."

Graham, who lived for two years in an abusive relationship, finds the annual vigil a chance to share her journey from victim to survivor with those who have yet to be free.

"Today, I walk with my head high. I come home because I want to come home, not because someone tells me I have to," she said. "Every victim has the right to be free from abuse."

As dozens of balloons rose over the Conococheague Creek and fresh dirt settled around the base of a newly planted tree, McCole said a vigil is only one step toward ending the violence.

"So many victims are not calling us because they do not know there is help out there," she said. "Regardless of what your abuser tells you, you are not at fault."

The event also included a march and a dedication of a tree.

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