‘Make it known youbelieve survivors’
GREENWICH — Luz hid her bruises with makeup and a smile.
At first, she said the abuse began with her husband belittling her, cursing at her and taking control of her finances. Then it became physical. Luz grew isolated from her friends and family. She was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know what she was suffering.
“I wanted people to see me as strong woman, mom and wife,” Luz said at a candlelight vigil honoring victims and survivors of domestic violence Tuesday night at YWCA Greenwich.
“People were baffled when they learned about the abuse. But the truth is, it happens gradually,” she said as she explained her story. “By the time I realized I was in an abusive relationship, I had invested so much of myself and my self-esteem was chipped away so much, I didn’t think could be alone.”
Many obstacles kept her from leaving her husband of 20 years, Luz told the crowd. Culturally, she was taught to make sacrifices for her family and to not talk about what happened behind closed doors.
When police responded to Luz’s home for reports of a domestic incident, she said some officers sided with her husband because they were friends. One night, Luz said she was arrested after defending herself against her husband’s attacks.
The system re-victimized her, Luz said. She was put in the position of telling her employer the details of her abuse to explain her arrest, and she didn’t qualify for legal aid because she was facing charges herself. She was also facing deportation and losing custody of her children.
A co-worker eventually connected Luz with the resources at the YWCA.
“Their support was invaluable to my recovery,” she said. “I met so many courageous women. I didn’t feel judged or alone.”
Eventually, Luz said the charges against her were dropped and she filed for divorce. A year later, she is working to rebuild her life with her kids.
“My children are very understanding and resilient,” she said. “I am grateful they are living with less fighting, arguing and stress. But the ramifications of the abuse don’t go away. It left emotional scars that need love and support to heal.”
The YWCA Greenwich’s candlelight vigil, a annual event held since 2004, served as a unique opportunity this year for survivors and advocates to ask for a call to action.
Gender-based violence has remained in the shadows for too long, said Meredith Gold, director of domestic abuse services for YWCA Greenwich.
“And it is this, exactly this, this secrecy, that abusers have counted upon,” she said. “To cast doubt on the credibility of survivors, has made all of us complicit in the perpetuation of abuse.”
In the #MeToo era, amid a slew of new allegations levied against powerful people, Gold said conversations about domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment have never happened so publicly before.
“Today, our hotline is busier than ever with survivors coming forward to share their stories and seek support, trying to reconcile their experiences with what they are witnessing and hearing about in daily news coverage,” she said. “We ask that today become the day when the statistics we all know so well become more than just numbers we recite.”
The names of 20 people who died as a result of domestic violence this year were read aloud at and roses were placed in memoriam of each. The victims — both male and female — ranged in age from 10 months to 79 years.
Rosie Enyart, youth engagement and community educator for YWCA Greenwich, closed the night by asking the community to take small steps to change a culture that perpetuates sexual violence.
“Talk to your children about relationships,” she said. “Teach them how to ask for consent.
“Model healthy boundaries and encourage them to express their emotions. Teach them, by example, what healthy relationships look like.”
Enyart asked the crowd to make it known they believe survivors.
“Use your vote to support survivors,” she said. “It is up to each of us to recognize abusive behavior and not only show solidarity with survivors, but to condemn abusive behavior when we see or hear it.”
If you are someone or you know someone who is suffering from domestic or sexual violence, call the YWCA hotline at 203-622-0003. For more information, visit ywcagreenwich.org.