Pay It Forward: Domestic violence awareness

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. That is more women than breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer combined.

That is why October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month in hopes of empowering those who are victims and educating those who have the power help.

As disturbing as the Ray Rice incident and other NFL domestic violence stories have been as of late, the good news from it all is that it put a very real problem in a big spotlight.

A victim of domestic violence can be anyone -- any race, religion, financial status -- but similarly anyone can help.

"It started about ten years ago," said Claudia, a domestic violence victim. "I fell in love with somebody who fell from heaven for me."

It was the American dream for Claudia that all too quickly turned into a nightmare.

"I was very excited for having a little bundle of joy, but during that time, the alcoholism started," she said.

So did the beatings for her and her child.

"When he comes home drunk, he would rip my child from the crib by her feet and start turning her around, throwing her," Claudia recalled. "I was like a monkey jumping around and begging him to stop."

The violence only escalated. At times, Claudia would take her daughter and go, but she would always forgive and go back.

"I was very afraid of going to [the] unknown, going to nowhere and losing everything that I had been working for -- my child," she said. "Lose the neighborhood, her toys, her school, her friends."

It was a cycle of abuse that lasted nine years until one day.

"He told me that he will make me disappear," said Claudia. "He even tried to. He tied a rope around my neck and tried to hang me from the ceiling."

Enough was enough.

"I couldn't take it anymore and I called the police," she said.

Claudia's way out started by walking in to Artemis House.

"Artemis House is the only domestic violence shelter servicing Fairfax County," said Susie Pigg, the assistant director at Artemis House. "We're not listed anywhere. Nobody knows where we are and that's our biggest safety measure."

They average 80 to 100 calls a month. They only have 34 beds to service a county of more than a million people, but they do what they can and they do make a difference.

"There was help, there was understanding, there was peace, and after long, many years, we finally slept the whole night," said Claudia.

"It's your safe place to fall," said Pigg. "We're here. We're going to guide you through. We have the resources and we care."

And they are not the only ones.

"A lot of people get a little gun-shy and they [say] the problem is so massive that there's nothing as an individual that I can do to really make a difference, and I just want them to know nothing could be further from the truth," said Steve Murray.

He works for RE/MAX, but on Saturdays, he pays it forward by using his company's truck to collect items for Shelter House, which Artemis House is a part of.

"Typically you'll find us in front of a grocery store in the community or in different neighborhoods in the community," said Murray. "Part of my mission is not only collect goods that can be used, but it's to raise awareness so everybody in the community kind of really understands what's going on."

And the truth is it's a hard reality to face.

Maria, another violence victim, told us, "Everything was my fault. "No matter what I did, it was not enough."

Maria was married to her abuser for 14 years. She is at Artemis House now along with her three children.

"I tell them that everything has a price and that we have paid one, but that tomorrow is going to be a better day," she said.

And truly it can because of those who make it their profession to help and the ones where it is their passion.

"If one person could just do a little, collectively we could do a lot," said Murray.

But most of all, it is because of women like Maria and Claudia who courageously dared to speak up.

"What I hope and wish is that I want husbands to stop doing this," said Maria.

"If I had heard the same story ten years ago, I wouldn't be sitting here with you," said Claudia. "I would be more wise if I knew about it, if I read about it. I was not aware of it."

The number for Artemis House is 703-360-7273. That is specifically in Fairfax County.

We also want to give out the National Domestic Violence Hotline number. They can be reached at 1-800-799-7233.

One other important point is that two-thirds of the public believe domestic violence is a problem, but only one in three have ever actually talked about it.

And we want to remind everyone to keep those Pay It Forward nominations coming in. If you know someone who is going above and beyond to help others, we want to hear from you.

Go to our Pay It Forward page and submit the person you believe should be recognized.

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