Domestic violence survivors speak out

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April 26th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Young women between the ages of 16-24 reportedly experience the highest levels of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. Last week, Omahans came together to bring attention to sexual assault in young adults, an experience that can have a lasting impact on the entire community.

“It is not a family matter… it is a crime it’s a horrid act,” said Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at the University of New Hampshire, earlier this month. “And the solution begins when we as a society acknowledge that and begin to change our own personal behavior.”

Panelists discuss the importance of understanding signs of abuse in relationships at Creighton University (Photo by Angel Martin).

Biden launched a nationwide sexual assault awareness campaign, emphasizing that “Students across the country deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn.” In fact, one in five sexual assaults happen during people’s college years, according to Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, who launched the campaign along with Biden.

Last Thursday, local members of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta opened the discussion up. About 30 college-aged people gathered on the Creighton University campus over coffee and tea. Carmelita Miller, a panelist, said she found herself in a verbally and physically abusive relationship at a young age. Miller called herself a survivor and shared how she got out of that relationship.

“When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was kind of wondering … why now? Why at this time?,” she said. “Our relationship was going really bad at that point, but in the end I realized that I was blessed with my daughter because that was God’s way of getting me out. That was my way of escape.”

Miller said she never wanted her daughter to grow up and think abuse was “acceptable, or that a man should treat you like that, or talk to you that way.” Knowing that is what gave her the strength to get out, she said.

Miller’s now the Non-Violence Program Facilitator for the Women’s Center for Advancement, formerly known as the YWCA. And, to help women in Omaha who find themselves in domestic violence situations, the sorority’s Shawntel Smith said her group plans to collect 100 used cell phones by June to donate to the WCA.

“What they do is wipe the phones clean,” she said, “clear them, and then program them to call 911.”

“A lot of times, when women are in abusive situations, their significant other will take away their means for contacting other people for help,” Smith said. “So they want to make sure they have that phone for emergency purposes.”

Members of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta listen to an open panel discussion on sexual assault. (Photo by Angel Martin)

The panelists also gave advice about how to recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships, when to seek counseling, and how women can empower themselves to find the strength to escape when they need to.

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