Vera House Annual Report highlights domestic abuse survival stories

Oct 31, 2013

A recent domestic violence death in central New York hung over this year's Vera House Annual Report to the community this week. The deaths this week of a Liverpool woman and her friend, allegedly at the hand of her estranged husband, was on the mind of survivors of domestic violence and those who work with victims of domestic violence.

It's not so much the numbers that are the most important part of the annual report for the Syracuse Area Domestic and Sexual Violence Coalition, but the stories of women who have become survivors of such violence, like Dawn, a victim of domestic abuse. She says the Liverpool deaths this week made her very angry.

"Family members know, and friends know, and they think he will never go that far," she said. "He would never do that. But the problem is, you don't know that until it happens. And then you can't take it back, you can't change it, you can't rewind time."

Dawn, who recently left an abusive relationship, says her message is that domestic violence is never okay, even if it's one shove or one threat. She says it can lead to more violent behavior, adding that it's never okay to protect this kind of violence or make excuses for it.

There were about 18,000 domestic calls in Syracuse and Onondaga County last year. Vera House Executive Director Randi Bregman says the numbers don't vary that much from year to year, but that doesn't mean the fight against domestic and sexual violence is hopeless.

"I'm hopeful that if we continue some of the prevention efforts both in sexual abuse and domestic violence, maybe in another 20 years, maybe we'll have some significant changes in terms of how our community responds and prepares for ourselves for issues like domestic and sexual violence," Bregman said. "So we just don't react when someone is hurt, but we think of how we think and react as a culture."

The message of one of those survivors of domestic violence, is that the general perception of victims is false.

"The perception is that they are poor, uneducated, mostly minority woman," she said. "That is simply not true. And one of the reasons I agreed to speak was to say that I am an educated, independent woman, and I fell victim to this."

Bregman says there are generally upticks in calls to the domestic violence hotline after a case like the one in Liverpool. That's the only silver lining to that story.

"If somebody's able to find a route to escape, or have a conversation they wouldn't have had because of a tragedy, that's that tiny piece of hope that comes along with the great pain of tragedies like these," Bregman said.

Among efforts to prevent domestic and sexual violence in central New York in 2012 was increased community response to elder abuse, greater participation in an engaging men program, and enhanced services for survivors that includes Project Phoenix, which helps survivors on their way to independence through entrepreneurship and business ownership.