Vigil brings community awareness

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— Domestic violence is a problem in the Steamboat Springs community that needs heightened awareness, says a local woman who was a victim of abuse.

"I think there's a lot more abuse going on than people realize," said the woman, who asked that her name be kept confidential. "Domestic violence is a misunderstood issue. People need to realize that it can happen to anyone and the abuse doesn't have to be physical."

The woman said she was never physically abused. Her husband would hurt her mentally and emotionally.

"My husband would tell me he didn't like my outfit. He'd tell me what friends I could and could not see," she said. Within a few years, she realized she didn't have any friends of her own and that she was isolated from everyone except her abuser.

"I started believing everything he'd say, like 'You're stupid. You're ugly. You're spoiled.' He'd say everything that would make me lose my self-esteem," she said.

She said she ignored the abuse to keep peace in her family and make her marriage work. "I felt like it was my fault," she said. "I thought I was the problem and if I fixed me, I'd fix the problem."

She tried to help her marriage, but the abuse continued. "He'd tell me I was a bad mother. If I drank a glass of wine, he'd tell me I was a drunk."

She decided to get away from her controlling husband. "Just because you get a divorce doesn't mean the abuse stops. The abuser will find another way to get control, whether it's through stalking or trying to take your child away."

She came to Steamboat because she needed to get away, she said.

"I realized that I didn't want my child growing up learning that this is the way relationships are," she said. "I'm lucky that I had a supportive family."

The woman believes the community needs to be supportive of those people going through domestic violence situations. "They should know it can happen to anyone, and that a situation like this is not as easy to get out of as they might think."

Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, hopes the community will learn from this woman's story.

"We hope to heighten awareness that domestic violence does occur in our community. People don't really understand the magnitude," Moore said.

Advocates Against Battering and Abuse provided services to more than 400 women, children and men in 1999 in Routt County, Moore said. "People need to realize that domestic violence is a community problem," Moore said.

Advocates is collaborating with First Impressions to increase awareness during National Domestic Violence Awareness month.

"We see our efforts as a way to get the community involved in helping home become a safe place for everyone."

The Advocates' staff sent out signature sheets to local businesses asking community members to show their "support and commitment to ending violence in our community." They also invited local child-care providers to have children create pictures and stories that relate to peace in the home.

Lauren Dargevics, a high school intern at Advocates, visited Strawberry Park Elementary School to help students get involved. She had the children put purple hand prints on shirts to symbolize that hands aren't for hitting. Purple is the color of domestic violence awareness.

"I explained to the students that some kids don't go home to happy houses," Dargevics said. "We are trying to bring awareness to the children's level."

Advocates is hosting a candlelight vigil and walk to heighten community awareness in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The community is invited to meet at the police station on Ninth Street and walk to the Routt County Courthouse. There will be a brass quintet along with several speakers, including Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, Steamboat Springs City Councilman Ken Brenner and Dargevics.

"The purpose of the vigil is to celebrate the survivors of domestic violence and honor those who have died," Moore said. "This is a way for the community to come together."

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