October is dedicated to raising awareness for multiple life-threatening issues, including domestic violence. During Siskiyou Domestic Violence & Crisis Center’s annual candlelight vigil to honor victims and survivors of domestic violence – which was held at the Siskiyou County Courthouse on Oct. 10 – those present had the opportunity to hear poignant details of two different DV situations: one in which the victim chose to leave and speak out, and one in which the victim may stay and is currently remaining silent.

The event featured remarks from multiple local speakers, including SDV&CC Deputy Director Carla Charraga and Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Captain Karl Houtman. Local resident Christy Thomas was this year’s survivor speaker. She shared her personal account of staying in an eight year long relationship that involved emotional and physical abuse.

“Some of the most painful memories though, looking back, are the ones when our children were present. Their screams still haunt me,” she said.

“I think the beginning of the end came in 2011 when we had a full blow out that resulted in me being arrested for DV,” she recounted. “I had two black eyes, and bruises from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. The children, then 13, 14 and 15, were taken from our care. At that point I left.”

Thomas described how she went to a domestic violence shelter briefly but maintained contact with her abuser because she was “so in love with him.” “We could not possibly live without each other,” she recalled thinking.

She also remembered thinking that even with all the problems and abuse in her relationship, “surely through therapy and really trying, we could change.” She eventually saw that was not possible. It took four times of leaving and going back before she finally left the relationship for the last time, Thomas said.

From there, she got a job in Siskiyou County, saved money, rented a house and bought a small used car. She’s still employed at the same job. “I never ever pictured that this is where I’d be in my life,” she shared. “If anyone had told me back then that my future was where I am today, I would have laughed in their face. You see, there was no escaping. I had no hope. Today my life is filled with joy, and I’m surrounded by people who love me. I’ve even managed to have my criminal charges expunged.

“So many people are still where I was when I thought I’d never be able to breathe without that relationship, and so many people will continue to go back, and back, and back, expecting different results, only to be kicked right back down. I’m here to tell you that you are worthy. You are important. Your life matters. It’s hard. I know. But you can be free. Don’t stop asking for help. Don’t give up on yourself.”

District Attorney Kirk Andrus provided an eye-opening look at the effects of domestic violence when a victim doesn’t break the cycle. He related during the vigil, “Just today I became aware of a case of domestic violence. The perpetrator has a substantial criminal record. All of the typical things are found there—possession of stolen property and burglary, but also battery, assault and false imprisonment. This is an offense typical of domestic violence. It means that he wouldn’t allow the victim to go where she wants to go—often preventing her by force.

“... In the most recent case he, on different days, slapped her, pushed her, threw a heavy tool at her – giving her a painful injury, kicked her, pointed a gun at her, and threatened to kill her – even being so specific that he threatened to stuff her in a barrel and let her die slowly. She has reported abuse over and over and over, in multiple counties. But where is she today, on the eve of trial? Hiding. Unwilling to tell her truth. Unwilling to make him stop. Unwilling to protect every woman he comes across in the future.”

This case will likely be dismissed, he said, and the abuser will go free, and may find the victim after he is released. “She may be waiting for him. Their relationship will continue on its present trajectory of escalating violence,” Andrus said.

If the victim remains in that relationship, he said, she has a measurable percentage chance of being killed by her abuser. Additionally, Andrus alleged that the victim’s children are twice as likely as the average child to be violent with their intimate partner. “Her children are likely to have trouble learning, focusing, reading, and developing meaningful and healthy relationships. They are more likely to be victims themselves and to suffer from substance abuse,” he detailed, noting that one in four children are exposed to family violence.

But there is more hope than ever for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, Andrus shared. He explained that the new Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Psychotherapeutic models teach that DV is rooted in distorted thinking about self and partner, poor emotional regulation, inadequate coping and is often related to learned violence, emotional/mental distress, poverty and substance abuse. Fortunately, Andrus said, “With evidence-based programs to give abusers insight, we have a better chance than ever to break the intergenerational cycles of violence.”