Duo aims to help victims of domestic violence
Duo aims to help victims of domestic violence
When her niece became involved in a violent relationship after high school, Rosemary Raiman used her early experience working for a community action agency in upstate New York to help guide her through the court system — and away from her abuser.
“She had someone who believed in her and wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was. She was able to remove herself from that situation,” Raiman said. “We were one of the lucky families. It’s not always that way.”
Raiman, domestic violence coordinator for the State’s Attorney’s office, along with Fern Brown, retired domestic violence coordinator for Charles County Circuit Court, formed Advocates Working for Victims in Crisis in 1999.
The pair met four years earlier and bonded over their “desire to make a difference for victims of abuse,” Brown said. They operate through covert meetings with individuals in church parking lots, gas stations, in coffee shops to deliver baskets of food, bags of clothes or whatever the family needs.
Raiman calls them “crisis intervention moments,” where someone needs help at the last minute. Raiman and Fern always make an effort to answer the call.
At any given time, Raiman said she can have eight to 10 people on her speed dial. Her support ranges from a simple text message to helping victims establish a safety plan of locking doors, checking bushes outside the house, exchanging children in a public space, to accompanying victims to the court house and helping them articulate their abuse to a judge. Last year, she said she spoke with close to 1,500 individuals in domestically violent situations.
“We have a passion for women to know they are worthy, do not deserve to be yelled at, called horrible names, be hit, kicked, spit on. It’s degrading, a hidden secret they don’t want to tell but they can’t always cover up the bruises,” Raiman said, adding that abuse is as often “black and blue of the heart,” as much emotional damage as it is physical. “People don’t like to talk about domestic violence, they don’t want to hear about it. They ask why she didn’t just leave and I say, why couldn’t he just behave?”
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. Raiman said the majority of cases she sees are from abused women, but the demographics don’t stop there.
“Nothing could be further from the truth that victims are a certain someone. Domestic violence knows no bounds to any race, creed or color, and it’s not about love, it’s about power and control over another person,” Raiman said. “It’s sad and it’s happening and it’s real and it’s happening everywhere.”
They pair began The Silent Witness Project of Charles County, a national program designed to recognize individ- uals who died from domestic violence, as a way for those silenced voices to be heard and remembered. This year’s program took place Oct. 7 at the Greater Waldorf Jaycees and recognized officials and agencies that come together and intervene to help victims. The program consists of a display of red life-size silhouettes, each representing a real person whose life ended violently at the hands of a spouse, ex-spouse, intimate or former intimate partner or family member.
The program’s guest speaker, a woman named Angela who requested her last name not be revealed, told her story with the hope of inspiring others to speak out and seek help.
Angela had been in an abusive relationship with her ex-fiancé for the majority of their six-year relationship. Though she tried to escape several times, Angela said his manipulative and controlling behavior limited her options.
“My prior job put a restrain- ing order on him and they fired me and then I was solely financially dependent on him,” Angela said in a phone interview. “He ended up taking my car and he slowly alienated me from my family and friends.”
Though she had endured abuse since six months in to their relationship, Angela said she never thought her son’s safety was in jeopardy until two years ago when her ex-fiancé hit their then 5-year-old.
“For a long time he was an excellent father and always made sure he was taken care of and once he stripped everything away from me and I was dependent on him, it was like I couldn’t put my child through being homeless,” Angela said. “So I thought I could suck it up and take a hit or two as long as he had food in his stomach and a warm place to live, and that’s why everything changed when he beat my son.”
Angela said she was secretly making arrangements for her and her son’s departure when her former fiancé discovered her plans and attacked her, held her hostage and beat her for about five hours. Angela managed to escape and was flown to R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where detectives interviewed her and turned her onto the advocacy program as well as Rosemary and Fern.
Over the last two years, Angela has been able to recoup much of what she lost. She has a full-time job, a vehicle, a home and is working to regain custody of her son, who has been living with her ex-fiancé’s mother. Her ex-fiancé received a life prison sentence after being charged with attempted murder and sexual assault, among other charges.
Angela credits the moral and counseling support she received from Rosemary and Fern as the primary tools that helped her recover.
“It meant everything,” Angela said of the support she received. “I literally would not be where I am now without their support and their care, encouragement and guidance on the resources that were available and getting things set up for me. It’s hard when you leave and very discouraging, and I knew that I had to get my life back — I just didn’t know how to go about it.”
Raiman said working with victims can be a “sad job” when someone returns to their abuser or are not ready to leave. In those times, she said, “You have to be there for each time they call.”
“When they do make it out and say they went back to school or received custody of their children, that’s wonderful and why we do this,” Raiman said. “And that’s when we know someone made it out and was able to overcome this.”
Brown said local organizations, including Order of the Eastern Star – Truth Chapter No. 19 Bryans Road and Indian Head Moose Lodge No. 1712, often donate food, clothes and toys when they’re asked for. Raiman said the pair have connections to agencies throughout Southern Maryland, so there is always someone to help out and lend a hand.
“Call somebody,” Raiman advised. “Reach out and there’s always help somewhere. You just have to find it and connect them.”
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, far left, and Charles County Commissioner Peter Murphy, far right, show support with program founders Fern Brown and Rosemary Raiman for The Silent Witness Project of Charles County, which aims to give voices to and remember those who have been silenced forever by domestic violence.
Jennifer Mitchell, an attendee of The Silent Project event, reads the message of a silent witness victim of domestic violence. The red silhouettes represent a person whose life ended at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.