DeKALB – Almost 11 months ago, Abigail Turner experienced what she thought was the worst day of her life.
While visiting a friend’s house, her then-boyfriend Jared showed up demanding to see her.
“I told him I didn’t want to be with him any more because of his abusive tendencies like controlling, manipulation, even violence,” said the 17-year-old Hiawatha High School student. “The situation escalated to the point when he ripped the phone from my hands and my friend’s mom had to intervene for my safety.”
Turner’s story was one of the many shared Monday night at a domestic violence awareness vigil co-sponsored by Safe Passage and the DeKalb Area Women’s Center.
As survivors of domestic violence, many had different stories to tell the 70 people who came out to support the effort. But all of the stories had common themes.
Violence, or the threat of it, was a thread that linked all of the survivors. Sandra Bozzelly, a DeKalb resident, said she was abused for 10 years until her husband attacked her with enough force that it required her to undergo jaw replacement surgery.
Another woman, who declined to give her name out of fear of retaliation from her abuser, told the crowd that a gun was pointed at her head multiple times.
“By the fifth time, I hoped he would shoot me so it would all just end,” the woman said.
Their abusers’ actions made them feel worthless. Turner described her self-esteem as being destroyed. A few days after the initial incident, Turner got a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, but it didn’t stop him from harassing and manipulating her. She had trouble falling asleep and stopped eating, causing her to lose 15 pounds in a month.
“I fell into a depression and even became suicidal because I saw no end to it,” Turner said.
She stopped going to school because some of her classmates would ask her why she kept putting Jared in jail after he would violate the restraining order by leaving numerous voice mails on her phone.
But then Turner’s mom told her about Safe Passage, which works to reduce and prevent sexual abuse, assault and other forms of violence against women in the county. Turner described the organization as a “godsend.”
“If it wasn’t for Safe Passage helping me with the order of protection, I don’t know how or when I would have gotten away from Jared,” Turner said. “Without the help of my counselor, I don’t think I would have been able to make it through this.”
Bozzelly said she didn’t know about Safe Passage until the night her jaw was shattered. As the organization watched over her kids while she was in the hospital, Bozzelly thanked the Safe Passage employee who stayed with her that night.
“From that point on, my life has been much better,” Bozzelly said.
After a number of speakers, the event’s attendees marched around the neighborhood near the DeKalb Area Women’s Center, 1021 State St., with candles and glow sticks.
Emily LeFew, Safe Passage’s residential coordinator, said the goal of the event was to raise community awareness about Safe Passage and domestic violence as October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, begins.
“There is a higher level of awareness than what it used to be, but not what it needs to be,” LeFew said.
Another theme that connected survivor stories was the issue of bystanders – people who may be aware of the domestic violence but did not report it or try to stop it.
One woman, who also declined to give her name, described how a neighbor watched as her husband hit her in the back of the head with a baseball bat, but didn’t call the police after seeing her stand back up. It was an incident that stood out to DeKalb Police Chief Eugene Lowery.
Lowery said people might not report domestic violence because they are afraid of the consequences it might bring. Both Lowery and LeFew said they hoped events such as Monday night’s empower bystanders to not be afraid of reporting domestic violence.
“It’s helping people put themselves in the survivors’ shoes,” LeFew said.
In other communities he has been a police officer in, Lowery said there have been organizations comparable to Safe Passage. However, he praised the scope of Safe Passage, noting that it’s hard to find an organization like it that can serve a whole county.
Lowery said the police often are the first line of defense in domestic violence situations, but said Safe Passage has carved out its own niche. Safe Passage employees do role-playing situations with police officers to help them train for domestic violence situations.
“We’re trained to handle situations in accordance with the law and be enforcers of it,” Lowery said. “Sometimes that human element is lost.”