Song of survival: Vigil remembers victims of domestic violence

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Nico Savidge
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

JANESVILLE—Fourteen children stood at the front of the room at Hedberg Public Library on Tuesday night, the oldest in jeans and a sweatshirt and the youngest in pajamas.

An adult cued up the music behind them, and they started singing along to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

It’s a classic children’s song, but for many of the women at the event—the YWCA of Rock County’s vigil for victims of domestic violence—it spoke to something more personal.

The song described their attempts to leave abusive relationships, the things that knocked them down, and the perseverance it took to keep trying until they succeeded, organizers said. The children singing were residents of the YWCA’s shelter.

It resonated with Shanelle Ellison, a shelter resident who recently left a relationship she called “seven years of hell.”

The cycle started with her mother, who Ellison watched suffer through an abusive relationship growing up, she said.

Ellison’s boyfriend in Madison was emotionally and physically abusive, she said, but she kept going back to him—even after he was sent to jail for attacking her.

“It’s easy to get back into the same cycle if you’re not careful,” Ellison said. “But if you’re strong and have a good support system, and good people around you, you can make it.”

Sgt. Anne Brophy, who leads the Janesville Police Department’s Domestic Violence Intervention Team, said the program has helped hundreds of women find support through the YWCA.

That’s not an easy thing to do, she said.

“It takes a brave person to say, you know, ‘I do need help with this,’” Brophy said.

On a table next to Brophy were the names of local men and women who didn’t escape their relationships, and who were ultimately killed by their abusers. An electric candle sat next to each name.

After hearing from YWCA officials, abuse survivors and advocates, the families filed out of the library and walked a few blocks down Main Street to the bridge over the Rock River on Court Street.

A couple dozen people held rose petals in their hands to commemorate victims and survivors of domestic violence, then tossed them into the calm water below.

Ellison sang a song of her own, another one with meaning for her: Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” It’s a song about finding out that only you can make yourself happy, Ellison said.

She finally left her relationship four months ago.

Her ex had taken away her confidence and her dignity, she said, but leaving him was like lifting a veil.

“I’ll never let a man treat me like that again,” Ellison said. “I have a zero-tolerance policy.”

The red and yellow petals floated slowly down the river as she sang, cars and buses going down Court Street often drowning out her voice. You could hear her for this part, though:

“You cast your fears aside,” she sang, “And you know you can survive.”

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