“Virginia was a freshman at Southview High School, her boyfriend was a senior. Two days after her 15th birthday, he strangled her with shoelaces. He and a friend of his put her body in a plastic trash container and they went to a nearby wooded area. They then doused her body with alcohol and set her body on fire. He was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 20 years life.”
This is the story of Virginia Velez, whose life was cut short on Nov. 23, 1999. Her story was one of many life-size silhouettes of victims of domestic abuse being displayed at LCCC as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Though the silhouettes are the stories of those who were lost by the hands of domestic abuse, there is still hope in people like Heather Kirkwood, Emily Shelton and Claire Jett, who were able to leave their abusers.
“Everyone gushed over him. He was popular, artistic and hilarious. I thought I found the perfect man, I thought he would be my soulmate,” Kirkwood said, now 20.
But eventually, all of these girls found their boyfriends to be controlling and abusive.
“We lived together and had some shared finances,” Shelton said, “The finances were his idea. I think it was primarily to control me and steal my money. He would also gaslight me whenever I tried to break up with him, playing with my emotions to make me feel like I was crazy.” Jett said of her boyfriend, “He was really closed off in public, or really nice and playful at places like a band. But he drove me from my friends and my family. He convinced me that he would severely hurt himself if I left him.”
Most women could never imagine the thought of their relationships become abusive, but sadly that is a reality for women across the world.
“I’ve always been very independent,” Shelton said, “Never thought that I would be like all the horror stories that I’ve heard. Unfortunately, a lot of focus has been placed on physical attributes of abuse, not emotional or sexual abuse, especially when that person is your partner.”
Some, like Kirkwood, found themselves victims of sexual abuse.
“After he took my virginity, he forced me to have sex with him multiple times a week. He also started being very controlling, telling me what I could and couldn’t do,” she said.
These girls are among many young women who are physically, verbally or sexually abused.
About 26% of women and 15% of men experience domestic abuse before the age of 18, according to the U.S Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
“I had so much trouble leaving,” Jett said. “We had a trauma bond and as much as I hate someone, my love for them is usually stronger. I was young and naive, I broke up with him and got back with him and broke up with him again. I finally ghosted him, blocked him, and began living my best life.”
Life after an abusive relationship is far from the calm after the storm. The trauma caused by the abuse can leave women scarred for years afterward.
“Three years later and I’m still not healed completely,” Kirkwood said, “I still have nightmares, and am still terrified of men. Healing is a daily fight and I hope I can heal soon.”
Still one of the most important things to remember, according to Shelton, is, “It’s not your fault. It doesn’t make you impure when you are sexually assaulted. I faced a lot of guilt and felt that a lot of things that weren’t my fault at all were because I had been manipulated into internalizing everything.”
If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship and needs help, please call the abuse hotline: 1-800-787-3224.
Resources to victims of domestic abuse:
● Genesis House (440)323-3400
● Lorain County Safe Harbour Inc. (440)244-0107
Signs of abuse, according to the hotline.org
● Telling you that you never do anything right
● Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with loved ones.
● Insulting, demeaning or shaming you, especially in front of others
● Preventing you from making your own decisions
● Controlling finances in the household without discussion
● Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with
● Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions
● Destroying your belongings or home