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Janesville vigil seeks to heal victims of violence

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 8, 2009
— After pain comes healing. That was the hope of the annual end-domestic-violence gathering Wednesday evening in Courthouse Park.

The event ended with participants throwing rose petals from the Court Street Bridge into the Rock River to symbolize a release of their burdens.


“It helps a little,” said one of the participants, Sue Ostenson.


Ostenson is the mother of 25-year-old Erica Ostenson, who was shot and killed in Janesville in April.


“Hopefully, I’ll start to heal,” Ostenson said with eyes that spoke of the hurt.


The YWCA program featured a table set for dinner. Each of the settings had a place card with the name of a woman killed in domestic incidents in Rock County over the past 13 months.


Three were shot, one stabbed, one asphyxiated.


Gina Smith, who survived an abusive husband and now works for the YWCA, spoke at the ceremony, telling the story of her abusive husband.


“I didn’t talk about it. I had no friends. At one point my husband broke my collarbone, and I knew it had to end,” she told the crowd. “… It’s time to no longer hide it. It’s time to tell the truth.”


Afterward, Smith said she hopes her testimony will encourage others to break the silence that allows domestic violence to persist.


“It’s very important to get the word out that people don’t have to live like this,” Smith said.


Also speaking was Bill Jutz of Delavan, who read poetry about his abusive father and how that violence against him and his mother left a hurt that followed him for the rest of his life.


The YWCA organizes the annual candlelight vigil, which also included a door set up for another symbolic act. Written on one side of the door were words of victims:


“He broke my jaw.”


“He cut my head wide open.”


“Please help me.”


Most participants lined up to step through the door and speak the name of a victim as they did so. Passing through the door symbolized a new life of hope and happiness, said YWCA Executive Director Kerri Parker.


Ostenson and others wearing T-shirts in memory of Erica all stepped through the door.


One woman who asked not to be identified because of an issue pending in Rock County court approached a Gazette reporter, asking why these events rarely draw the pastors, doctors, lawyers, judges, police and elected officials who also deal with domestic violence.


“How come you guys don’t come to hear the stories?” she asked.


The ceremony was a reminder that domestic violence has avoided attempts to stamp it out.


“Domestic violence needs to stop now,” Parker said.


And yet, she expects the YW’s shelter will house 300 women and children this year.



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