EAST ST. LOUIS — There are resources available to help women get out of abusive situations and get a new start.
Eighteen local women participated in the "In Her Shoes" event that was held Saturday at the Delta Child Development Center on South 15th Street in East St. Louis. The event was sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
There is help, but women have to want to get out of their situations and seek the help, the speakers said.
Desarie Holmes, program administrator at Touchette Regional Hospital in the Behavior Health Services Department, said she wants domestic violence victims to know "there is help available. The victim doesn't have to be isolated if they don't want to be. They can get out and begin again."
To demonstrate, Holmes played the role of a victim. She was 23 years old and had two small children (ages 2 and 1) and was pregnant with a third child.
"In the beginning her abuser was not physical. He was psychologically, emotionally and verbally abusive. But, eventually it escalated to physical abuse. He lost his job and the family went on welfare. He was prideful and didn't want her to work," Holmes said. "She had no access to the outside."
Typically the abuser is a controller who wants the female he is abusing to have total reliance on him for her needs.
In her role-playing Holmes said, "One thing the victim had going for her was that the abuser's family was supportive of her. When he beat her and the police got involved, the abuser's mother supported the order of protection and told her son that she would call the police if he violated the court order," Holmes said.
The police were also very supportive of the victim. The victim, in this fictitious example, also had support from her church and prayer group. So, she eventually sought help. The abuser was ordered by the court to get treatment and counseling for domestic violence. The victim eventually went to local community college and majored in child development so she could open up a day care.
All the while, the abuser was pressuring the victim to get back together with him, not an uncommon occurrence. Although domestic violence affects everyone, she believes a lot more poor people don't report it, Holmes said.
Patricia McKnight is a real-life survivor. She said she was in abusive situations for 20 years. She's 50 now and got out of her circumstances when she was 37.
McKnight said her cycle of abuse started when she was 5 years old. "The man my mother chose to marry brutally molested me. What he took that night trapped me in a lifetime of cruelty. He took away my voice. For 12 years, I was a slave to my family and my stepfather," McKnight said.
The abuse from her stepfather "set a pattern of trained acceptance of abuse and violence. I was trapped for 20 years and I endured interpersonal violence and silence," she said.
The mother of three said after she left her mother's house she went on to marry a military man when she was 19. Her husband was 23. She went to England where he was stationed, got pregnant and then abuse in the marriage started.
"He was dominating and requiring. He had me in perfect isolation. He was in the Air Force. We had two children. When we got ready to come home, he made a decision that we were going to Hawaii," McKnight said.
After 18 months in Hawaii, McKnight decided to leave her husband. But instead, he ran off with her children, she said. After she located her children, she had a long court battle for custody.
"The courts were not very helpful in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania," she said. "His family defended him against me and they had money."
McKnight went on to marry a second time and had a third child. This husband was also an abuser.
"I have permanent spinal chord injury. There are three cysts on my spine from the beatings," she said. "If the victim doesn't make a decision to get out, sometimes they end up dying. It's all about the choices the victim makes."
She said she and her mother don't talk because McKnight said her mother never showed her any love. "She didn't care about me," she said.
McKnight, who grew up in Freeburg, now has an online talk show where she advocates against domestic violence and provides information for victims who want to get out of their circumstances. Her website is www.blogtalkradio.com/butterflydreamsabuserecovery).
Katherine Owens, a nurse for 40 years, said she attended the event "because domestic violence is an important issue and the more we know about it, the better prepared we are to help others," she said.
Owens said she also has a background in psychology and counseling and it is within her to extend her hand to help wherever she can. "I think that if more people get involved, we will be able to help more people," Owens said. "Some women who are in abusive situations feel ashamed and they won't seek help."
Cerether White, a St. Clair County Sheriff's Department domestic violence investigator, encouraged participants to report domestic abuse and seek help. Sheriff Rick Watson, who attended the event, assured them that White would investigate any report she receives.
Asked what he hoped the women learned or would take to friends in the horrific situations, Watson said he hoped "that they learned there is help for them and there is life outside of the violence they've become accustomed to."
"It takes a little determination for them to get out of their situations, but they can do it. A journey begins with just one step," Watson said.
Debbie Mize, director of the Violence Prevention Center in Belleville, said she hopes the women who were there and those who will read or hear about the event will be encouraged and seek help to start a new life.
"I know it can be done," said Mize, who herself is a domestic abuse survivor. Mize also encouraged the women to identify five people they can call on at anytime of day or night if they need help.
Adrian Gulley, president of the East St. Louis Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, said domestic violence is an issue near and dear to the national president of the organization. "We want to make sure we do our part to end domestic violence," Gulley said.
If you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship, help is just a phone call away 24-hours a day at (618) 235-0892.