Dani was in an abusive relationship for two years. One time she awoke on the floor and heard her abuser ask someone else in the room what he should do with the body.
When Dani stirred, he told her, “Baby, I thought I killed you.” And then he proceeded to beat her some more.
Dani said she found her “inner warrior” and got out. She promised herself to never be abused again, and to intervene if it was happening to someone else. “I was beaten with a beer bottle in front of 15 people, and no one said a thing,” she said. “I fought to save my life, and I won.”
Dani’s story was one of three told by survivors of domestic and sexual violence Wednesday during the 25th annual Report to the Community by Vera House, the Syracuse agency dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence.
The statistics shared were grim and difficult to hear, but the personal stories were more compelling than any numbers. Two others, like Dani’s, ended with words of hope.
Monu, a refugee, was forced into an arranged marriage in which she said her husband and her family treated her like a slave. “It was a nightmare,” said Monu, who is deaf and told her story via sign language. She was beaten in front of her young daughter, but eventually escaped the relationship and now works with other refugees.
Jennifer was abused by a family member when she was 12 and 13. It took 25 years to tell her story without embarrassment, fear or self-loathing. “I believed it was my fault,” she said. “I carried a suitcase of guilt and shame.” Sexual abuse of a child, she said, “is a sort of death. The death of a child’s innocence, trust and voice.”
After “coping” by binge drinking and other destructive behaviors in her 20s, Jennifer said, she is now proud to call herself a professor, wife and mother. “I no longer focus on the words ‘sexual abuse.’ I focus on the word ‘survivor.'”
As strong as those women and other victims of abuse may be, a prevailing message of the annual Vera House report is that it’s up to the rest of us to do what we can to prevent domestic and sexual violence.
The 150 or so people who packed Syracuse’s Plymouth Congregational Church saw vivid reminders in front of them — photos and “Silent Witness” displays of silhouettes depicting two women killed in a domestic violence incident in 2013.
“Because these women no longer have a voice,” one display panel read, “the silhouettes are called Silent Witnesses.”