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Survivors tell tales of courage at Pa. Vigil Against Violence

April 23, 2013|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Members of the Freedom Valley Chorus perform during Tuesday's 21st annual Women in Need's Vigil Against Violence at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Chambersburg, Pa.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — On Sept. 28, 2012, Gabrielle Thomas was raped by someone she had known for years and considered a friend.

“I never thought such a terrible tragedy happened in real life until it happened to me,” said the 20-year-old Shippensburg University student.

“The day of my attack I was in complete shock, yet a part of me knew I had to report it right away. Immediately I sought attention with the help of my best friend,” Thomas said.

Thomas was one of four women who shared her story at Women in Need’s 21st annual Vigil Against Violence at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Chambersburg on Tuesday.

More than 100 people, including community members, law enforcement, the legal community and political representatives attended WIN’s annual vigil.

Determined to fight back, Thomas pressed charges against her attacker and on March 15 won her case.

“It (March 15, 2013) was by far the best day of my life.  I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was all finally ending,” Thomas said.

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With the completion of the trial, she said she regained her life.

“March 15 completed an entire circle for me and gave me back a little piece of what was stolen,” she said.

She hopes her story inspires others to come forward and press charges against their attackers.

“For a while I was known as the girl who was raped, but now I am known as the girl who fought back and won. I’m a survivor,” Thomas said to a deafening round of applause.

Sixteen-year-old Marissa’s voice quivered as she told her story of a high school love that went terribly wrong.

Marissa said she fell head-over-heels for the smooth lines and attention grabbing texts of what appeared to be a perfect boyfriend.

“He was texting me and telling me how beautiful I was,” Marissa said.

But, soon her perfect boyfriend turned first verbally and then physically abusive.

At Christmas, Marissa said she wore a shirt her boyfriend didn’t like and he hit her in the face, nearly dislocating her jaw.

“The counselors from WIN helped me rebuild my confidence,” she said. “I am strong and know that I deserve better.”

Last year, WIN served 1,578 victims in Franklin and Fulton counties. Services are provided free of charge to victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and other serious crimes involving personal injury.

WIN Executive Director Barbara Channing said the survival stories not only give the victims a chance to educate the community about domestic violence but give the victims a chance to tell their stories in their own way.

“I would love to say the cases of domestic violence are going down, but that is not the reality,” Channing said. “The number of cases are increasing.”

Services are critical, she said.

Kelly Spinner, the host of “Good Morning Tri-State” on radio station 103.7, was the keynote speaker.

“There are more complicated issues facing victims because we have the ability to terrorize and stalk victims in so many more ways than ever existed,” Channing said.

One thing that has changed over the years is the support of the criminal justice system in terms of being more accommodating to the victims in allowing them to have a voice, Channing said.

Channing said WIN has raised half of the $3.3 million needed to build its shelter and advocacy center to replace outdated facilities.

For more information about contributing to WIN’s Capital Campaign, call 717-264-4444.
 

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