Robyn Posson recalled how much control her former husband had over her life.
He handled all the family finances and gave her an allowance of $5 a week — even though she had a full-time job. He also cut her off socially.
“I was never permitted to go out for coffee with friends. I got to see my parents maybe once a week — if I was lucky — if he was in the mood to let me have the keys to the car.”
Her ex-husband wouldn’t even let her leave the house to take a sign language class. She said this emotional abuse continued for two years — until one day he hit her.
“The last day that he lived in my house was the day that he hit me, and I said ‘I’m not going to have this be my life,’ and so I threw him out,” she said Thursday at a domestic violence forum at Schenectady County Community College, where Posson works as a counselor.
The event was the idea of Emily Petnic of Albany, a culinary arts student at the college, to bring attention to domestic violence.
“Since it’s an emotional issue, even families have a hard time talking about it. The best thing to do is to shine a light on it and really force people to confront it,” she said.
The evening began with an outdoor candlelight vigil to honor another SCCC culinary student, 20-year-old Tonette Thomas, who was fatally stabbed last month during a domestic incident in Albany. Michael D. Anderson, 29, an ex-boyfriend of Thomas’ sister, Shaquasia, has been charged with the crime.
The Thomases’ father, Anthony, said more of these events are needed — as well as tougher laws for abusers.
“I was never raised to hit a woman,” he said.
Domestic violence victims are mostly women, according to Kathy Gorman-Coombs, a counselor at the Schenectady YWCA, who said she appreciated the fact that many of the roughly 20 people in the audience were men. It is important for women to see men who know how to treat women with respect and have healthy relationships.
Gorman-Coombs said domestic violence affects the entire community. Victims sometimes end up committing crimes because of the situation they are in. They may be coerced into doing illegal things because of their partner or turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to numb their pain.
There are places to turn for help, however. The Equinox shelter has 30 beds available for victims and their children, according to Kathy Magee, the organization’s domestic violence department director. Right now, 29 are filled.
In addition to providing some physical safety, Magee said the shelter is a place where victims can think about what they want to do next. Staff members provide counseling but don’t force people to do anything.
“It’s the victim’s life. She needs to be able to make the choice as to what’s best for her. She’s going to have to live through it,” Magee said.
The organization provides a 24-hour hotline and advocacy for dealing with the legal system.
“The court system can be pretty tough on victims — particularly if you don’t know what to expect — because it can be very traumatic. Sometimes you can be a number that just goes through the system,” she said.
LuAnn Santabarbara, director of the Schenectady YWCA’s shelter, said she is disappointed that domestic violence gets limited coverage in the media.
“Even if you’re an NFL player and murder your girlfriend and murder yourself, it’s only going to get talked about a little bit,” she said, referring to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend and then himself earlier this month. “That’s very, very frustrating to those of us who fight on a daily basis to try and solve this problem.”
She also worried about the impact on children who end up in the shelter with their mothers and witness acts of violence. They are trying to focus on school and normal things, according to Santabarbara.
“In the back of their mind, they’re wondering, ‘Is mommy hurt? Did Daddy hurt mommy again?’ ” she said.
The advocates urged victims or witnesses to abuse to call 911, the YWCA Domestic Violence Hotline at 374-3386 or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hot Line at 1-800-799-7233.