Abuse survivors educate teachers to break the silence on domestic abuse

By Ariana Yamasaki
February 23, 2018

Imagine having fun with your dad one minute and the next minute he has you pinned against the wall with his hands around your neck. This happened to Wayne Stricker when he was 8 years old.

Stricker is a 16-year-old survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. As a child, his dad would abuse him and his mother, Gina Stricker. Wayne’s mother was beaten with such intensity by his father that she lost a piece of her skull and he broke both her neck and her back.

“We are really walking miracles,” Gina Stricker said to the audience at the Educators Back on Campus event.

Being a survivor of an abusive relationship is a rarity. This is not the case for every family. Not everyone is able to leave abusive relationships alive.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), nearly three-fourths of all murder-suicides happen among young couples. One person who did not get as lucky as Wayne Stricker and his mother was Kristen Mitchell.  

Bill Mitchell talking about his journey of having a child who went through an abusive relationship. Photo by Michelle Guerin.

Mitchell’s life was taken on June 4, 2005, by her abuser.

A couple weeks before her murder, she graduated from Saint Joseph’s University on May 14. Her graduation was the first time her parents met her boyfriend and abuser of four months. Mitchell’s father, Bill Mitchell, said he had an unsettling feeling about his daughter’s boyfriend, but he just brushed it off.

Mitchell’s abuse was not physical or sexual; it was emotional. Her father said that the most physical thing her boyfriend did to her was when he pinned her up against the wall. By the time Mitchell tried to leave the relationship, it was too late.

He snapped.  

He stabbed her 55 times in her apartment.

He waited hours before calling anyone or doing anything to help her.

All he wanted from Mitchell was total control and once he realized he had lost all control over her, it was over for the relationship and for Mitchell.

After that horrific day, her father wanted to become more educated on domestic violence and break the silence. He shares Kristen Mitchell’s story through Kristin’s Krusade, which is a foundation to help bring awareness to domestic violence.

The Strickers and Mitchells were affected first hand by domestic violence, but domestic violence impacts more than the lives of the abuser and victim. The families suffer when domestic violence occurs. Many children especially suffer from it by hearing and seeing how it affects their parents.

At five months old, Akea Pearson’s mother was murdered by her father. She did not find out that her mother was murdered by her father until she was 8 years old.

Akea Pearson sits with her educational children’s book about domestic violence. Photo by Ariana Yamasaki.

Pearson recently launched a children’s book, “Mommy, Wake Up,” that attempts to help parents educate their children on domestic violence.

The book is told from the eyes of an 8-year-old that witnessed her mother being abused by her stepfather. This book has illustrations that children who cannot read yet can relate to just by looking at the pictures.

Pearson is a domestic violence counselor and she uses the book to help her clients. In one situation, her client kept insisting that her 4-year-old daughter did not know what was happening in the house because she was sleeping when everything happened. Pearson let the daughter see the book, even though she could not read it, and the illustrations related to what she saw and heard at home.

The daughter said the illustrations looked like what her dad was doing to her mom. Once the mom heard her daughter say that, she broke into tears. Domestic violence does not just affect the person receiving the abuse, it also affects the children or bystanders too.

Five million children witness domestic violence in the United States annually, according to the Childhood Domestic Violence Association.

On Monday, Feb. 12, Wayne Stricker, Bill Mitchell and Akea Pearson all presented at the Educators Back on Campus event held by the Center for Children of Trauma and Domestic Violence Education. The event was informational filled with tragic stories about the speakers’ experience with domestic violence. Dr. Colleen Lelli, associate professor of education, is the director of the Center for Children of Trauma and Domestic Violence Education.

“The event was held because it is dating violence awareness month and the speakers who came were either children who were affected by dating violence or [individuals who] had a child who was affected by it,” Tommie Wilkins, Violence Against Women on Campus Grant Coordinator, said.

Cabrini held this event— and many others sponsored by the Center for Children of Trauma and Domestic Violence Education— because of the prevalence of domestic violence and the fact that it effects individuals of varying backgrounds.

During Mitchell’s talk, he explained that this can happen to anyone. Dating violence can happen to anyone you know. It could be a loved one or it could even be you.

Mitchell warned that there are six stages to an abusive relationship: it begins as a fairytale romance, then the abuser attempts to isolate the victim before rolling out threats of violence begin and soon actual violence, followed by a convincing apology. Then, the cycle repeats.

Becoming educated on the topic of domestic and dating violence is the best way to understand how to deal with the situation. In case a friend, family member or even yourself is in a violent or abusive relationship, it is good to know how to get out so no one gets hurt.

At the end of Mitchell’s talk, he mentioned a quote from Winnie the Pooh, which he thinks everyone should remember.

Mitchell said, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”

Sophomore education major Diana Whittaker felt that Mitchell and all the speakers covered the topic exceptionally.

“The speakers conveyed their stories very professionally and wanted to educate the community on domestic violence and how it needs to be prevented,” Whittaker said.

Having speakers come talk to the faculty, staff and students about an issue as important as domestic violence helps break the silence and starts a discussion.

“Dating and domestic violence is a topic that is so crucial to our society at the moment and it’s important we learn about young women in relationships,” Stephanie Barringer, a sophomore education major, said. 

“Having a student who survived living in a violent household while he was growing up helps gives the audience a personal perspective,” Tommie Wilkins, Violence Against Women on Campus, Grant Coordinator, said.

Breaking the silence on dating and domestic violence is the first step to educating people on this terrifying but real issue that happens to many people throughout the country. According to NCADV, 20 people per minute are physically abused by a spouse in the United States. In one year, 10 million men and women are affected by domestic abuse.

Editor’s Note: If you are affected by or know of anyone affected by domestic violence, call the hotline for domestic violence: 800-799-SAFE.

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Ariana Yamasaki

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