Author: Yadira Sanchez Olson
By sharing painful domestic-abuse experiences they lived through and survived, two Lake County women sought to dispel myths that they say undermine the work of victims’ advocates at an event hosted by A Safe Place on Thursday.
Standing under a bright spotlight at the Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake with close to 50 sets of eyes on her, the young woman — whose name is withheld to protect her privacy — had her voice crackle and her eyes well up a bit as she recounted the night she was raped by her son’s father in July 2016.
“He came in the middle of the night — he said to simply take a few minutes of my time to talk about us,” the woman said. “That night, I became a survivor of sexual assault.”
Her “soul was destroyed and her heart shattered,” she added, but with the help of A Safe Place and its myriad of services, the woman is now an advocate who volunteers at the nonprofit domestic violence prevention and treatment organization in Lake County, which served 12,726 people last year, according to its records.
On Thursday, A Safe Place Executive Director Pat Davenport explained that an abuser and a victim don’t look a certain way, are not of a specific financial class and can’t be identified by any one common feature.
A realistic way to see the problem, she added, is understanding that one in three women — and one in seven men — will be victims of domestic violence.
“That statistic has really changed the way I look at a room,” Davenport said. “We just never know what goes on behind closed doors.”
For more than 20 years, that was true for another domestic abuse survivor who spoke at Thursday’s event.
A woman who seemingly lived a privileged lifestyle at an affluent Lake Forest home said, “I will warn you in advance that this will be a topic that will make you uncomfortable” before detailing years of physical and verbal abuse and rape by her ex-husband.
It is a myth that domestic abuse only happens in low-income families or in areas that are underrepresented in terms of education and socioeconomic opportunity, advocates said.
“Many affluent abusers are too smart to leave marks,” said the woman, whose name is also withheld. She added that they use their status and money make their victims feel powerless and therefore less likely to leave the relationship, as they are made to think no one can help.
Davenport said that for 40 years, A Safe Place has helped families survive those relationships. Soon, the southern part of the county will have easier access to those services with the addition of a location in Lake Forest, slated to open in April.
Volunteers like Mike Reblin of Libertyville, who also spoke Thursday, asked that others join him in his efforts to play a part in the fight against domestic abuse by donating items, money or time at the organization.
After reading a newspaper article two years ago about A Safe Place, he felt a need to “be part of this movement, this change,” said Reblin, who added that his job is to keep the donation rooms organized and clean.
“It seemed trivial until I realized what an impact I have made,” he said. “Now the counselors and staff can quickly find the clothing for the 4-year-old child (or) the woman who needs new clothes for a job interview.”
That’s another myth A Safe Place advocates say needs to be put to rest — that domestic abuse is only a problem that affects those involved and not the entire community.
Everyone can and should help, Reblin said.
According to national numbers shared in a 2017 report by The Partnership For A Safer Lake County, domestic violence is an epidemic, and the cost to the U.S. economy exceeds $5.8 billion annually, $4.1 billion of which is for direct health care.
“Every step of the way, we would not be here if it wasn’t for residents of Lake County,” Davenport said.