From the thetimes-tribune.com
By Katie Sullivan (Staff Writer)
Danielle’s face was gone.
Authorities identified her body by the rose tattoo on her ankle and the personalized gold necklace with her name on it they found next to her body.
Danielle Gangemi’s live-in boyfriend beat her, then shot her in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun before killing himself.
Danielle’s mother, Andrea Vladika, of Archbald, was left looking back for red flags, signs of what had gone wrong.
“When you have a 19-year-old daughter who’s full of life and her future is so bright, and then one morning you get a call that something’s happened at her apartment and you go down to find that, it doesn’t make sense,” she said of the 1997 Archbald murder.
The details of domestic violence stories vary, but beneath the cuts, bruises and broken bones, victims of domestic abuse share the same story – a pattern of jealousy, control, fear, manipulation and confusion – a violent back and forth that is hard to escape, and sometimes deadly.
Grace butterfly taped the gash on her leg shut after her husband slashed her with a knife.
Jeane suffered broken toes and fingers when her ex-husband beat her with a crow bar.
But before they were abused women, Grace and Jeane’s story started out much like Danielle’s – they met a person they grew to love, someone they trusted and cared for. At the request of Grace and Jeane, The Sunday Times is withholding their identities.
Abuse in an intimate relationship always begins the same way, but it’s not necessarily physical, said Peg Ruddy, director of the Women’s Resource Center of Northeast Pennsylvania. Abuse can be subtle – emotional, psychological, manipulative.
It can be as simple as name-calling or controlling all the money, making it difficult for victims to recognize the actions as abusive.
Grace’s boyfriend isolated her from friends, then family, leaving her feeling alone in her Scranton area home.
“I stopped talking to my family and I had to rely on him for everything,” she said.
Part of the struggle for a victim is acknowledging abuse is happening, Ms. Ruddy said. The stigma of being a victim also makes it difficult for people to admit that to themselves and others.
“I think it’s a really personal thing to talk about. That someone you thought loved you is trying to break your spirit … that’s hard. That’s personal,” Ms. Ruddy said. “I think the stigma has lessened, but I think the personal nature of that crime makes it difficult for people to come forward for help.”
In Jeane’s case, she thought it was almost cute how she’d get inquisitive calls from her husband.
“Just a year or two into our marriage, I noticed if I had to go to the store I’d get phone calls,” she recalled. “I thought those things were normal. Nobody hands you that marriage manual to say this how it works, this is what you can expect.
“The first time it happened, he was angry about something. I got punched in the face. I was floored. I was like what the heck just happened here?”
Jeane’s husband was remorseful after the punch, swore to her up and down he’d never do it again.
“And that’s where that hope comes from,” she said. “You don’t see it for what it is. You think he’s having a bad day, things are going to get better.”
Abuse escalates quickly, and with a deteriorated support network and the affects of psychological and emotional abuse, it’s hard for victims to escape the physical abuse in a relationship.
For Grace, it was when she became pregnant and got married to her boyfriend, suffering a severe beating on her honeymoon, her then husband instructing her to tell people she’d gotten hit playing volleyball.
He hit her with belts, sliced her with knives.
“I learned to butterfly my own legs and my hands several times when he did that to me,” Grace said.
In one of his worst rages, he dragged her from her bed to the bathroom and dumped bleach, detergent and nail polish remover on her head.
But she could never bring herself to say it, even to police, some who were friends of her husband.
“I was very afraid to tell them what was occurring for fear of what he would do if he found out,” Grace said. “You’re afraid to say it. There’s a shame in it. There’s a shame that you’re letting it be done to you.”
Sometimes she’d leave, packing up everything in the house and her two kids.
Each time he’d break down and beg for her to come back. He’d cry and say he was so sorry and that if she did things differently he wouldn’t have to hit her.
“And I went back every time,” she said.
It isn’t unusual for victims to return to their batterers multiple times, or even file multiple Protection From Abuse orders.
Physical, psychological and sexual abuse are often endured for a long period before victims seek help, said James Roberts, Ph.D., a sociology and criminal justice professor at the University of Scranton. He has researched PFA data and patterns since 2007.
“For persons who withdraw the PFA, the two big categories we identified were emotional connection to that person. Simply the belief the person had changed was another major reason,” Dr. Roberts said. “We also found that there wasn’t always evidence that belief was warranted.”
Grace came back to her husband six times before she left for good. Danielle decided enough was enough after her live-in boyfriend threatened to kill her nephew when she went to meet a recruiter and join the military. She moved out of the apartment and stayed with a friend in the same building.
Nine days before her 20th birthday, Oct. 2, 1997, Danielle’s boyfriend said he wanted to talk. She went outside their apartment building, telling her friend if she wasn’t back in 10 minutes to call the police.
He dragged her inside and ripped the phone off the wall as she tried to call her friend for help. When police arrived less than nine minutes later, Danielle and her boyfriend were dead.
“He took her into the apartment and he shot her once in the leg and in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun and then he shot himself,” Ms. Vladika said.
When victims of abuse do leave, there are challenges they must face. Food, clothing, housing, transportation, childcare, all with one less income and one less person to help should the responsibility.
There are also legal challenges.
Victims often times must testify against their abusers in court, living in fear of retaliation if and when their abuser would walk free.
“We do not treat domestic violence perpetrators the same as we treat other criminals, we do not hold them to that high standard of accountability,” Ms. Ruddy said.
Victims must attend hearings, which are sometimes continued, stretching out the time from arrest to conviction to sentencing to as long as a year, she said. In the aftermath of her abuse, Jeane struggled.
She resigned from her job after she was pressured about missing so much work for court appearances.
When Grace filed for custody of her and her husband’s child, he broke into their home. Her oldest child called 911 while Grace ran through the house, drawing him away. Her husband was charged for breaking and entering, a charge later dropped because his name was still on the lease for the home.
But the incident prompted her to get another PFA, which he violated the next day. He served six months in county prison for the violation. They are now divorced.
Until the violence ends
Danielle had a closed-casket viewing.
Ms. Vladika didn’t get to see her daughter one last time.
“The hardest part for me as a parent is that I didn’t realize this was going on,” she said.
Grace found solace in the place that gave her emotional support, a judgment free zone, reliability, compassion and understanding – the Women’s Resource Center. With countless other victims like her, she vented in group sessions and worked with the Barbara J. Hart Justice Center. She learned coping exercises and ways to manage her ex-husband – with whom she still shares custody of their child. Grace’s work with the Women’s Resource Center has taught her to make her voice heard and stand up against violence, but it took time.
“It took a very long time to feel safe again and to feel different about the whole situation,” she said. “Now the more I stand up for myself and the more I stand up for the situation … the more that he sees that I’m not going to let him do what he wants and walk all over me.”
Jeane said the Women’s Resource Center pulled her out of the darkest period of her life.
“I was just in a puddle on the floor. In that puddle there was a hand reaching up and the Women’s Resource Center was the hand that reached back down to me and pulled me up.”
She moved into the transitional housing program and earned her bachelor’s and later master’s degree in social work at Marywood University. She interned at the center and less than a week after graduating, she was hired as part-time staff.
“Here inside these walls is where I learned I need to take care of myself,” Jeane said. “And when I take care of myself I can be better for everybody else, especially my kids.”
In the years since Danielle’s murder, Ms. Vladika teamed up with the Women’s Resource Center to go into area high schools and colleges to speak with young people about the dangers of domestic violence, how to recognize the signs and how to seek help.
“This is my hope, to get awareness out there and to get information out there to the young people who are dating … that there’s help out there,” Ms. Vladika said. “Even if one life could be saved. This is something I’d like to work towards.”
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.