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Domestic violence survivors and activists raise their voices in Miami

North Miami Beach Domestic Violence walk

North Miami Beach Domestic Violence walk
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North Miami Beach Domestic Violence walk

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month in the United States and the stories of women who survived are being told.

In Miami, several organizations and activists have held events to raise awareness in the community of the negative effects of physical, verbal and psychological aggression.

“In 2006 my ex-husband stabbed me five times,” says Wanda, 37, of Miami, who is now leading a community aid program that seeks to educate other women about domestic violence and participated in a walk in Miami last weekend to draw attention to this problem.

She was very young at the time and believed that she made mistakes that caused her husband’s anger. Until he decided to separate from him and the tragedy was ended.

“By wanting to get out from under them [men who abuse women], they lose control over you and that’s why he tried to kill me,” she said.

After spending three days in the hospital and with a one-year-old child in her arms, she could not return home for fear of her ex. So she came to a shelter at Safespace, a nonprofit organization that works with the County Victims Defense Program and provides shelter and assistance for victims of domestic violence who flee their homes. There she received a roof over her head, food and clothing. She was then transferred to transitional homes in Miami-Dade that receive the victims for a maximum period of one year.

“There I was while trying to get ahead, get a new job and slowly rebuild my life,” said Wanda.

Unlike Wanda, many others have not survived to tell their experiences. Eighteen people died due to domestic violence in Miami-Dade County in 2017, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A total of 162 deaths were recorded throughout the state.

To heal, these women are transforming pain into art. Within the framework of Domestic Violence Awareness month, men and women, young people and adults participated in a walk on Saturday for the 11th consecutive year. A painted violet is the symbol of the fight against domestic violence, which seeks to raise awareness in the community, explained Jeannette Garófalo, president of Safespace.

During the walk, the North Miami Beach Police, along with the Safespace Foundation, sent a message to the community: “the victims should know that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones,” said Alicia Consuegra, who after overcoming her own case of violence is vice president of Safespace.

According to Mark Melmer, a lawyer and former supervisor of the Domestic Violence Unit of the Miami-Dade County State Prosecutor’s Office, alcohol, drugs and mental illness are the most important contributing factors to domestic violence.

These factors are also “often aggravated by the economic conditions of the individual”.

On the other hand, these behaviors would also be learned, that is, children who are witnesses of violence often grow up with the idea that violence is the correct way to handle disputes, explained Dian Alarcon, field coordinator at the National Latina Institute, an organization that seeks to empower women to guarantee their fundamental rights during a meeting last week in Miami with survivors of domestic violence.

The mayor of North Miami Beach, Beth Spiegel, said that the problem of domestic violence lies fundamentally in that until the victim does not decide to break the cycle and seek help, nothing can be done to help her.

“It’s a situation that occurs within the four walls of a house and people feel embarrassed and do not admit it,” Spiegel said, adding that the only thing the City can do is raise awareness and make them aware of the resources that count. “They are not crimes that we can see and objectively stop before they happen,” he concluded.

Francesco Duberli, a member of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of Miami (DVSAC), said the key is prevention. “We can not continue to invest in help [for the victims] and let the phenomenon continue,” Duberli said.

Follow María Fernanda Becerra on Twitter @maferbecerrah