MILFORD - Safe Haven of Pike County assists nearly six new victims of domestic violence every week. At a candlelight vigil for those who have suffered, the Executive Director Christina Byrne said in Pike County that means one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lives, with thousands of more women and men needing help from the nonprofit agency that supports victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes.
Antoinette Chiarello presented a $20,000 check to Byrne on behalf of the Mary Kay Foundation. Byrne said the gift would be used to further the agency’s outreach efforts. Chiarello said the foundation supports local communities, offering resources for victims and 97 percent of money collected by the foundation goes to causes like domestic violence.
The vigil is just a part of Safe Haven’s “Paint Pike Purple” for Domestic Violence Awareness month every year, where they host activities to bring awareness to the issues. Byrne told those in attendance that survivors are standing up for everyone, when they stand up for themselves by sharing their experiences during projects like the “clotheslines project” that offered a “visual representation” of stories because of tee-shirts that showed peoples’ messages and victims stories. She called the messages “very powerful” and heart breaking because those who participated had “survived.”
As part of the program, the Dingman Delaware Children’s Choir sang for those in attendance.
Woman shares her story
Before Janine Gulla and Yvonne Accomasso shared their stories of overcoming domestic abuse, Byrne said the women were giving hope to victims who often feel helpless and alone; instead the victims can go on to see that there is a “safe life after abuse and an army of supporters behind them” show that help is available 24-hours a day through Safe Haven’s hotline.
Today, Gulla told the crowd she is taking back her identity, while she continues to be a survivor. Having experienced all forms of abuse, raped by a cousin when she was a child, sustained two head injuries and later trying to commit suicide because she could not “cope with life,” she ran away, despite her loving parents.
Eventually, Gulla met a man who had served in prison and when she was 17, he raped her. This time though, she became pregnant, later losing the baby when she was four months pregnant.
When Gulla was 18, she married a “high school friend” that ended in divorce because she didn’t know how to have a relationship. Then, at 20 she met her son’s father who Gulla was warned about. After they married, he became abusive, forcing her to have sex three months after her son was born. This led to an abortion because he “would’ve killed me” she told the crowd who listened in near silence. Eventually, he drop kicked her in the face, breaking her nose. Gulla left him, five years later. But even then, the abuse didn’t end because he abused her through their son.
Gulla went on to remarry, to another man who mentally abused she and her son for 10 years. After divorcing him, she met “number four” even though she “knew he was trouble,” Gulla told the vigil attendees. Instead, she was “empathic” since she feels the need to “fix what is broken” even though she cannot help herself.
Although number four served three years in prison, Gulla said she “stayed by his side” even marrying him because she believed it would help the situation. Instead, he eventually stole everything she had worked for, from her home to her car, continuing to mentally abusing her and even holding a knife to her throat. But yet again, Gulla believed she could “fix” the situation because she felt it was her “fault somehow.”
The marriage lasted for nine years, with a few operations between. They always reunited, Gulla said, because she felt “guilty.” But then, he tried to kill her by smashing a ceramic lamp on her head, causing another head injury. Now, he’s serving time in jail and they are going through their divorce proceedings.
By almost losing her life that time, Gulla said it put her situation into “perspective” with God being by her side throughout her life. She believes God “guided” her hand to dial 911 that evening.
Reaching out to others
Today, Gulla is going through therapy as she deals with the effects of her experiences. To help others, she created a group for victims because she knows moving on isn’t easy and she believes the “world is ignorant” since some people say the victims deserve the abuse because of the choices they have made.
Because of the ignorance, Gulla said victims are afraid to seek help for fear of being “persecuted” even though, “we did not ask to be touched.” And so, she encourages victims to seek help from Safe Haven and the Victims Intervention Program (VIP) as well as the police in Matamoras who are “awesome.” She noted too, that the abuse affects children as her son is now going through therapy and has his own “issues that stemmed from abuse.”
Byrne called the second victim, Accomasso a “champion of women” as she too, advocates for survivors. The vigil, Accomasso said, was a time to honor the lives of victims who “lost their battle to domestic violence” as well as the families who carry the “pain of loss.”
“There are no excuses,” Accomasso said, when it comes to domestic violence because of the resources available to address “the battle.” To move on and seek help “takes courage and fortitude” since victims may feel defeated and alone. Instead, they must have a voice and “stand in power to say enough.”
As a survivor, Accomasso said she knows domestic violence is a “fight of good verses evil.” She was married to the same man for 30 years, who she believes loved her too. To the rest of the world, he seems to be a great husband, but there were issues as he made important decisions without her, such as career moves, moving and purchases of homes and cars without considering how it would affect Accomasso.
Eventually, even though she didn’t want to move, they moved to Bushkill, which was a difficult change, Accomasso said. Soon, he would leave for weeks, leaving her stranded and eventually disconnected as he wouldn’t call or answer his cellphone. Her husband went on to put “everything in jeopardy” and leaving her in “total instability” with debts and people seeking answers, which she didn’t have.
With no medical coverage, Accomasso was unable to seek treatment for her medical issues, later leaving her isolated. Accomasso said she faced foreclosure, her health and more were affected and so, she “felt trapped.”
Friends came to her aid
Friends helped as Accomasso sought legal assistance and she became a greeter at her church which as “truly a blessing,” she said. Through this position, Accomasso connected with new friends and people asked questions, soon offering help because he had “become a monster” despite staying in the “confidences of their home” making him a “cancer that had eaten everything.”
Accomasso’s husband remained in the lower area of their home and stayed in a room, not leaving or paying bills and so, she was left to manage everything. Even still, Accomasso said he would “abuse from within” by leaving their home to get what he needed, creating situations that caused her injury and even, leaving her mother with permanent eye damage after throwing polyurethane in her eyes.
Eventually, it was suggested that Accomasso place cameras in their home and with the help of the local police, she received guidance to get court orders of Protection From Abuse. Now, after he served a week in prison and is permanently out of their home, Accomasso called it a “victory for us” and she feels “honored” that he has been held accountable for his behavior. Today, Accomasso wears her experiences as a “badge of courage” as she has moved on. She told those in attendance to speak up if they sense or see something that isn’t right.
For more information about Safe Haven call 570-296-2827 or the 24-hour crisis hotline at 570-296-HELP (4357).