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Candlelight Vigil activities planned

by Linda Hiller

The statistics are hard to fathom:

– Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women seen in emergency rooms in the United States – more than automobile accidents, rapes and muggings combined.

– According to the American Medical Association, family violence kills as many women in a five-year period as the total number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.

– There are 3,800 animal shelters in the United States and only 1,500 women’s shelters – the first of which was built 20 years ago in St. Paul, Minn.

– More than half of marriages in the United States involve some form of domestic violence, whether it be physical or mental abuse.

– Every 12 seconds, a woman is beaten by a partner. By the time you finish reading this article, 25 women could be on their way to emergency rooms across the country.

Though these facts seem daunting, here in Douglas County, victims of domestic abuse and violence have a champion in the Family Support Council.

The organization began in 1982 with a two-person staff at the Adaven Hotel. Their initial purpose was to deal with domestic violence in Douglas County.

Today, the staff has more than quintupled and in addition to dealing with cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, Family Support Council’s free services include mediation, marriage and family therapy, a men’s intervention group for anger management, parenting classes and more. But domestic violence awareness and support is still the backbone of the community organization.

n Pain is internalized. “Domestic violence is an epidemic in our society, crossing all socio-economic classes,” said Becky Smokey, Family Support Council’s domestic violence/sexual assault department co-coordinator. “The majority of the people who come here are embarrassed and don’t want to tell anyone – but if they’ve had emotional abuse, they’ve internalized the pain.”

Smokey, a survivor of domestic abuse years ago, knows what it is like to be in that kind of relationship.

“I was in that relationship for four years, eventually left and raised my children by myself,” she said. “It was difficult in the beginning for me – as it is for other victims of domestic abuse – because the abuse can be so subtle. It’s very traumatic for them, especially because these women know the fine lie between sanity and insanity and by the time they come out of the violent situation, their self esteem is gone and they have to regain that.”

“Some women say the emotional abuse is almost worse than the physical abuse, because bones and bruises heal, but the internal wounds on the psyche can linger,” said co-coordinator Lois Pruneau.

Pruneau said the domestic violence/sexual assault department at Family Support Council sees an average of 30 to 45 first-time contacts and 150 to 200 calls to the hotline per month. Last year, there were 2,037 total contacts – 342 for the first time.

“I think we are reaching more and more people with outreach programs like the candlelight vigil,” she said. “We eventually want to do more work with the high schools and dating violence because teen-agers need that awareness.”

Pruneau said 2 percent of the victims of abuse seen at Family Support Council are men.

“We also help the men – victims and batterers,” she said.

“We know that most batterers have low self esteem and want to control their partner,” Smokey said. “And, what they have in common is that most people wouldn’t believe that he could hit his partner. But most batters are Jekyll and Hydes, and they usually know the laws.”

n Candlelight vigil is Monday. In recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Family Support Council has teamed up with Soroptimist International of Carson Valley to start the month of awareness with the second annual candlelight vigil and walk Monday evening, Oct. 4 beginning at 7 p.m.

This year’s chairperson from Soroptomist International is Cora Hansen. Last year’s chairperson, Liz Bricker, said more than 125 participants came out to show their support.

“It was absolutely, beautifully successful,” Bricker said. “All we’re trying to do is make people aware that there is a problem.”

Domestic violence survivor Kari Daniels will be one of the featured speakers. Her physical abuse was so bad that she had to have reconstructive facial surgery and now has a glass eye. She was featured on the Maury Povich show this week, Smokey said.

“Within the past year, she is the fourth woman we have seen who needed reconstructive surgery,” Smokey said. “One woman had to have plates in her face, but they are collapsing now and she’ll need more surgery. Another woman had to have surgery because she was hemorrhaging from the eyes.”

Other featured speakers at the vigil will be Judge David Gamble, and Father Bill Nadeau, O.M.I., of Saint Gall Catholic Church.

For more information, call Hansen, 782-1045; Bricker, 265-3539; or the Family Support Council at 782-8692. That number is also the 24-hour hotline. The Stateline hotline is 588-7171.