By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and the YWCA of the Tonawandas is hoping to light up the city purple to raise awareness of this issue, which affects hundreds of women in the Twin Cities each year, if not more.
Deborah Schnitzer, domestic violence team coordinator at the YWCA, said the organization is shining purple spotlights on its Tremont Street headquarters to provide awareness of the services it offers.
“We’re going to light us up purple,” she said. “We’re going to try to encourage the community to shine a light on domestic violence and maybe put some purple lights up on their houses.”
“We’re hoping people will realize there is domestic violence in our community and there are options for women. One of the things we do here is we confront domestic violence on all fronts.”
Those options include a weekly women’s support group for victims of domestic violence, one-on-one counseling, the KidStrong program, which provides support for children in domestic violence situations, and advocacy efforts in the courts and with politicians.
Key to all this is education and letting women — and some men — know the YWCA can help those who may not even realize they are in a domestic violence relationship.
“Domestic violence is not just physical abuse. It’s verbal, it’s emotional, it’s psychological, it’s financial, it’s sexual ... there’s a broad range of abuses that happen with domestic violence. It’s a coercive pattern of power and control,” Schnitzer said.
Renee Hickey said she was one of those women who didn’t realize she was in one of those bad situations. A troubled relationship with her boyfriend ended with his arrest in October 2008 and she said she initially only used the services of the YWCA to help keep him from getting in trouble upon advice from then-assistant district attorney Caroline Wojtaszek.
“She said, ‘Renee, this is domestic violence and you need help.’ I was mortified — he never hit me — and I thought ‘what are you talking about?’”
Hickey joined the weekly women’s group and after some time realized she was in a domestic violence situation and ended her relationship.
That realization was cemented less than a year later when her boyfriend shot her eight times during a confrontation in her home in May 2009. To her and her family’s surprise, she only spent nine days in the hospital after the attack.
“I walked out of there on my own two feet by the grace of God,” Hickey said, adding that in addition to returning to the women’s group, she started going to one-on-one counseling, something she continues to this day.
In addition to the support she’s received at the YWCA, her children joined the KidStrong program.
“A lot of times when you’re in that situation you don’t have babysitter,” she said, adding that the program helped to empower her children.
Hickey credits the YWCA with giving her structure and the ability to turn her life around. She has been able to go back to school through a Women’s Independence Scholarship, for which she was backed by the YWCA. She just finished her associate degree and is 36 hours away from a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Bryant & Stratton College.
Her free time is spent trying to educate the public about domestic violence, speaking to some 77 classrooms at the middle and high school level.
When asked if there’s one big misconception many people have about domestic violence, she said it’s the one-sided reaction she often gets from people who hear her story.
“They either say ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened to you, I’m so sorry,’ or they say ‘How could you be so stupid?’”
“I like to look at that time in my life ... I like to say to myself that at my worst I was not my best. I say that because when all this was going on before the shooting and directly after, I had become a person I actually didn’t like.
“You get so caught up in everything going on around you. It becomes such a drama triangle and you get so caught up in him and people get sick of hearing about it. You start doing things you normally wouldn’t have done. “
“When a woman is going through this, she’s not herself, she’s not the person you knew and loved. And it’s because we just don’t know how to handle what is going on around us. We’re trying to keep ourselves safe, we’re trying to keep our kids safe.”
“Without (the YWCA), I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school, to become self-sufficient and stand on my own two feet,” Hickey said.DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BY THE NUMBERS YWCA of the Tonawandas (chapter head) • 443 -- the number of individual clients serviced annually • 126 -- the number of children serviced annually • 977 -- the number of people who call the hotline • 130 -- the number of men who attend the Offender Program • 253 -- the number of outreach programs • 569 -- the number of supervised visitation children National statistics reported between 1998 and 2002* (chapter head) • 3.5 million -- number of violent crimes against family members, 49 percent were against spouses • 84 -- percentage of spouse abuse victims that are women • 50 -- percentage of spousal abuse offenders in state prison who had killed their victims • 43 -- percentage of female murders in 2002 perpetrated by family members • 70 to 80 -- percentage of intimate-partner homicides that the man physically abused the woman before the murder • 3.3 to 10 million -- number of children who witness domestic violence annually • 30 to 60 -- percentage of perpetrators of intimate partner violence who also abuse children * According to the U.S. Department of Justice Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.