By Chelsea Ybanez
Finding her in a pool of her own blood, paramedics rushed Laura to the hospital. Her body was disfigured with bruised and broken flesh. Though autopsy reports never determined a cause of death, her broken ribs, collapsed lung and brain hemorrhage were the results of abuse at the hands of her husband. Laura did not live through the night.
“Domestic violence doesn’t begin with a shove or a punch. It begins with ‘just shut up.’ Those three little words are the seed to domestic violence,” Marissa Presley, a prevention educator for domestic violence, said.
Laura is one of 16,800 fatalities stemming from domestic violence in America each year. It is one of the most underreported crimes with 1.5 million people battered yearly, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The rate of violence experienced by females between the ages of 16 to 24 is triple the national average, according to loveisrespect.org.
A third of them never tell anyone about being abused.
“There are a lot of people that stay quiet, and when they stay quiet, it’s too late,” student Brian Bautista said.
The story of Laura’s death was recounted to students during a seminar hosted by the Communication Studies Club.
Marissa Presley was invited to address the difficult and harrowing topic Oct. 30 at Santa Ana College.
Presley works at Laura’s House, a county-funded shelter designed for women and teens seeking to escape abusive relationships. A group of women from the South Orange County Domestic Violence Committee founded the shelter in 1994. Since its establishment, more than 3,000 women and children have received support and services.
“I don’t like to call them all victims. Even if you’re still living in an environment like that, you’re still surviving. So you’re a survivor,” Presley said.
Warning signs are not always obvious, she continued. Presley referred to specific character traits that potential abusers exhibit and said identifying them early in a relationship can help prevent becoming a victim.
“If we are able to recognize when it is right in front of us, we will be able to walk away a lot quicker than if we were to ignore it,” said Presley. “Jealousy is the No. 1 red flag to look for in an abuser. It’s consistent. It’s interrogations. Those are the ones that are dangerous.”
Other red flags include acts of manipulation, guilt and intimidation.
Fear, low self-esteem, financial instability and threats often bind the victim to their abuser, Presley said
It’s not always women who suffer, either.
More than 25 percent of men have experienced rape, violence or stalking by a partner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, genders and education levels. It can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender, Presley said.
Children are also victims, even if only through witnessing violence secondhand.
“Little girls that grow up in a domestic violence home right now in America are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused. They weren’t given a chance,” Presley said.
Boys who witness abuse are twice as likely to reflect that behavior towards future partners and children, according to the NCADV.
The first step in getting out of an abusive relationship is asking for help.
Resources offered through SAC’s Health and Wellness Center aid victims in leaving their partners, said Phi Loan Le, training director from Psychological Services.
“Safety is a priority, making sure that there is a safety plan and helping the survivor find the resources there to help them,” Le said. “It’s a process.”
The idea for the seminar came up last year as the Communication Studies Club brainstormed ways to convey this weighty topic to students. The club’s vice president, David Gonzalez, is creating a documentary about domestic abuse, which will be released next year.
“We are here to be a voice for the voiceless. I began to realize I relate to these victims and this is how my life is. Now that I know, it’s helping me to reach out to other people, so here I am,” Gonzalez said.
On campus, there have been a number of other events addressing domestic violence. Laura’s House hosted a visual project last month featuring shirts made by victims.
In October, a clothing drive for Domestic Violence Awareness Month honored Kesha Curtis, a SAC professor killed by her husband in 2011.
“We are hoping we make a difference. If not for them, it’s for someone they know,” Vera Holder, Communication Studies Club advisor, said.
Domestic violence costs about $37million a year in law enforcement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment.