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A light in the darkness

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LIGHT: Susan uses her candle to light Marion Police Department Chief Angela Haley’s candle during the vigil to remember those who lost their lives to domestic violence.
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PRAY: Harold Hodge lifts his candle above his head as his wife Rhonda bows her head during the final prayer of the evening.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@chronicle-tribune.com

As Susan clutched her belongings while she made her way through the rain under the cover of darkness toward the flashing red and blue lights, she was finally free.

The night before, she prayed to God that her husband would tell her to leave their more than 30 year marriage because even though she knew their relationship was toxic, she said years of manipulation kept her from seeking the help she knew she needed.

“He owned me. I was his possession,” she recalled.

While he never laid a hand on her, she said he controlled every aspect of her life.

Even while he was unemployed, she was forced to walk a mile to work so she couldn’t have the family car. He set deadlines for her, and if she disobeyed, she felt the consequences.

She would even walk through church with her head down because anytime a man acknowledged her, it turned into a fight.

When her prayers were answered and he asked her to leave, she remembered thinking, “Oh God, you’ve got to help me now with this because I’m scared to death.”

She locked herself in a room for the last time that night after she collected her possessions while he was allegedly “yelling, screaming, ranting and raving” and even threatening to shoot anyone who stepped foot in the house.

When she finally stepped foot in a shelter provided by Hands of Hope in Marion, her decades of struggling ended.

“I was safe. I could breathe. I could sleep. Finally, I started thinking for myself,” she told dozens of people gathered at the annual Hands of Hope Candlelight Vigil to raise awareness for domestic violence reform.

Her testimony brought tears to the room as she gave advice for the community to help the cause and prevent situations like the one she lived through.

She said the biggest thing anyone can do to help someone they feel might be a victim of domestic abuse is to be gentle, kind and honest when talking about the situation while making sure not to “sugar coat” it.

Before she was about to get married, she said her friend tried to help her by saying she thought her husband was “a little jealous,” even though the situation was worse than that.

“I wish what she would have said is, ‘He’s controlling. He’s too jealous. He doesn’t want you to spend time with anyone but him,’” she told the group.

Hands of Hope director Linda Wilk said her organization’s 91 interviews and five support and focus groups with survivors has shown what victims of domestic abuse and violence need the community to do.

“What survivors want us to know is the importance of compassion and that competent response is critical,” she told the crowd. “They also wanted us to know that recovery takes time… They need financial stability and acceptance... They also wanted us to know that self healing and restoration is important but often continues even after the relationship has ended. They also believe that there is hope.”

Wilk said things are getting better even though survivors worry about the intergenerational cycle of violence.

“One survivor was quoted as saying, I’d love to see a culture where a teenage boy makes a joke about women and his buddies say, ‘Hey, that’s not cool. Knock it off,’” Wilk said. “When you start with boys and you teach them the proper way to behave, that is how they become men who know how to behave. That is so much more possible than taking a grown man who is already an abuser and already has this ingrained behavior patterns and try to change that.”

The community should not judge a survivor, she says. They should meet them where they are, pray, be a role model and provide them with the resources they need to get help.

Hands of Hope has a 24-hour hotline, 765-664-0701 that helped Susan seek help. You can also find online resources at www.famservices.com for more information.

So far this year, there have been 51 domestic disturbance reports, 116 domestic battery reports, 452 harassment reports and 24 intimidation reports according to Marion Police Department records.

MPD Chief Angela Haley said a lot of those numbers are domestic related, adding that their department deals with domestic abuse on a daily basis.

She said anyone who hasn’t been to one of the candlelight vigils needs to attend one because throughout her more than 20 years of service in law enforcement, she learns something new each time a survivor speaks.

“I think anytime that you get to hear from a survivor, it’s important because a lot of the calls that we go on we aren’t dealing with the survivors, we’re dealing with someone that is entrenched in it and right in the middle of that experience,” Haley said, adding that it often takes multiple bad experiences before someone actually gets the courage to leave. “If you’ve never been to a candlelight vigil, it’s an experience that you can’t miss.”