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Helping victims take their life back

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CANTON — They have been told all of their lives that they will never have it, they will never do it and they will never amount to anything.

Victims of domestic abuse have been affected by a complex crime, but local law enforcement and support agencies offer hope and access to resources to make life better.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said domestic abuse knows no professional or fiscal boundaries and goes beyond physical abuse.

He said the dynamics of domestic violence, a pattern of coercive behavior to gain control over one’s intimate partner, go beyond something as simple as a theft, for example.

“This has other victims built into it,” Sheriff Wells said. “Oftentimes there are children involved. It could be children; it could be in-laws. Other people can get victimized in some types of domestic incidents.”

As a part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Sheriff Wells and St. Lawrence Valley Renewal House for Victims of Family Violence want people who fear the repercussions of reporting a domestic incident to know that there are resources available to help them.

Notification programs, such as the Family Court Order of Protection Notification Project’s Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification and the New York Sheriffs’ Victim Information and Notification Everyday Hotline are both available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

SAVIN-NY allows domestic violence victims to register to be notified by phone, text message or email when a Family Court order of protection has been served by registering at www.savin-ny.org. VINE allows victims to register at www.vinelink.com or toll-free at 1-888-VINE-4-NY to be notified by phone or email in the event of an offender’s release from jail or prison.

“They are protected, but not only that, since an order of protection is only a piece of paper, they can take actions to make sure they are out of the location or make sure somebody else is with them,” Sheriff Wells said.

Renewal House Executive Director Ilene J. Burke said while victims are made aware of their options, education is best for helping the community at large understand more about the dynamics of domestic violence and where victims can get help.

“We always talk about making domestic violence your business,” Ms. Burke said. “They pick up the phone; they call because they’re hearing that violent argument that is going on next door. I call it educating the jury pool, too, but if you get people that hit there and they don’t understand what it is all about, how are they going to make a good decision.”

Ms. Burke said what victims really need to know is that Renewal House is a confidential agency.

“We would not discuss anything with another agency outside of here without the written release from them,” Ms. Burke said. Renewal House’s 24-hour hotline is 379-9845. It is at 3 Chapel St., Canton.

Renewal House Program Director Shari L. Fawcett said that in crises, victims have called the agency first as opposed to law enforcement for a number of reasons, including safety.

“They might have been threatened by their abuser,” Mrs. Fawcett said. “They might have a job in law enforcement where any police contact may affect their well-being, so there are a lot of reasons why they might not contact the police first.”

Kelly, whose last name is being withheld, faced just such a situation 25 years ago.

Kelly was in a four-year marriage, in a family with two children. The legal system was much different at that time, she said, and getting help was very difficult.

“I had struggles with that because my abuser had relatives and friends that worked in law enforcement in the town I lived in and his aunt was also the mayor in the town I lived in,” Kelly said. “It was extremely difficult to be believed. It was extremely difficult to report anything without ramifications to myself and my family.”

Kelly said she eventually got out of her situation with help from outside the county in which she lived, but not before she was victimized again for having contact with police and was threatened with arrest for violating an order of protection, although it was for her abuser to stay away from her.

Now in her ninth year working with Renewal House as a women’s support group facilitator and counselor, Kelly said she sees a little of her story in everyone she encounters and lets them know she is with them all the way, regardless of the choices they make.

The important thing, all the women agreed, is that things will get better.

“It is a very hard thing to say to victims when they are in the middle of a crisis,” Kelly said. “We do see victims who are in extreme crisis mode when they first come to us and then we see them, maybe a week later, sometimes a month later, come in with a smile on their face.”

Whether it is a first apartment, first job or holding custody papers after they were told they will never have their children, victims of abuse “just shine,” Kelly said.

“They really have a lot that they have accomplished. It may seem small sometimes, but it is a big deal to them. They have been told all of their lives, they will never have it, they will never do it. They will never amount to anything and here they are, going back to school, they’re working, they have custody of their children, they are able to take them to the playground for the first time without fear of retaliation. We see that a lot and so it just makes our day. We like to see how they have survived.”

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