Domestic Violence Awareness Month is no different than any other month for domestic abuse survivor Elana.
She’s still reminded of the horrors she faced at the hands of her dad and ex-husbands. She still suffers the effects of the trauma brought on by vitriol, degradation and violent outbursts.
Those who attended the annual Monroe County Domestic Violence Awareness Month Peace Walk in Columbia on Thursday night were given a glimpse of the torture she faced most of her life. But only a glimpse.
“When I thought of what I was going to say today, I thought about growing up in a home where domestic abuse was the norm,” said Elana, whose last name has been omitted for safety reasons. “I thought about waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon, coffee and cigarette smoke.
“I thought about waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of screams as my dad choked out my mom.”
Unfortunately, the nightmare didn’t end there for Elana — children who grow up in an abusive household are three times more likely to repeat the cycle — who went on to marry two different abusers.
“I can tell you right now that I’ve suffered abuse in every sense of the word. I’ve been stalked by my husband, raped, digitally abused,” she said. “I’ve been emotionally abused — my husband did something to me called gaslighting (manipulating someone’s emotions to make them think they are going crazy).
“I was constantly told, ‘You’re going crazy. You didn’t tell me that.’ It keeps you second guessing yourself, makes you feel unbalanced. I had personal items stolen and placed in other parts of the house.
“I had my personal journal stolen from me and used against me in court. I had to stand there in front of the judge with my abuser in the courtroom and read the journal.”
Elana’s story serves as a powerful indicator of the tragedies taking place in millions of households every year.
For this reason, members of the community, law enforcement, government officials and the like marched from Columbia City Hall to Metter Park with glow sticks in hand in honor of the victims.
For this reason, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul, Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson and Darlene Jones, Executive Director of the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois, shared how domestic violence has touched their lives.
Jones shared the familiar but gripping statistic that one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner. Additionally, she pointed to cardboard silhouettes at the park representing the “Silent Witnesses,” so named because they display stories of domestic abuse.
“It’s very sobering to read the stories. It could be any one of us,” she said.
In addition, Jones said the Monroe County Violence Prevention Center office at the county courthouse now has a new counselor. Tammy Banning is now being trained to provide counseling services and can be reached at 939-8114.
To show people domestic violence happens in their backyard, Paul recapped a recent offer-involved shooting in the county.
“We are reminded of the dangers to everyone involved — victims, witnesses, officers, perpetrators — as recently as July 8 of this year when a Monroe County deputy was involved in a shooting at a domestic violence call in Maeystown,” he said.
The situation involved a man wielding a live chainsaw and moving toward the deputy in a threatening manner. He refused to listen to the deputy’s orders, which led to the fatal shooting.
Following that, Paul mentioned progress within the county to handle domestic violence calls more effectively. A new countywide dispatch system, known as Priority Dispatch, triggers a prompt for dispatchers to follow based on the type of call they field.
The prompt includes a list of questions to ask the caller in a given situation. Priority Dispatch also applies to medical calls, fire calls and any other type of police call.
Toward the end of the event, one of Paul’s officers, Columbia Police Detective Sergeant Karla Heine, received the 2017 Monroe County Peacekeeper Award. Heine was promoted to detective sergeant in 2016.
She has been an active investigator with the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, Southern Illinois Child Death Investigation Task Force, and FBI Child Exploitation Task Force. She also played a key role into the investigation of a young Belleville woman’s attempt to drown a newborn in a toilet during a party in Columbia in 2008.
“We would like to recognize Detective Sergeant Heine for her outstanding work defending the rights of victims of domestic violence and prosecuting the responsible party,” the Columbia Police Department posted on Facebook.
Heine said after receiving the award that everyone should be a voice for those who suffer from domestic violence.
“Pay attention to what’s going on in the community. I guarantee someone you know out there needs help, so come forward and help,” she said.
Hutchinson read aloud the Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation for the county, and also shared how a recent local shotgun shell sorting event brought in more than $9,000 for the Violence Prevention Center.
The event concluded with a balloon release to memorialize victims. As people left the park, shirts hung on a line off to the side with messages detailing children’s personal stories of domestic violence.