A bloody mouth, black and blue legs, a sharp shiny knife — images from a night 20-year-old Nicole Stewart will never forget.
When her boyfriend drank around her for the first time, she said the man she considered respectful and affectionate quickly transformed into a crazed animal.
Not only did his alcohol-infused rampage include multiple punches to Stewart’s face, but he also kicked her down a flight of stairs, verbally berated her and — worst of all — threatened her with a knife.
“I was lucky to survive,” she said, “because he wanted to kill me. I’ve never been through anything as serious as that in my life.”
Her life up until that point hadn’t exactly been easy.
After being granted a release from her Indiana foster home at the age of 18, she decided to seek out her real family. Her search led her to Chicago, where she discovered her mom in a rehabilitation facility, her grandmother surviving on welfare and her aunt dealing with a chronic alcohol problem.
“There was just no one who really had time to help me from the ground up because they were helping themselves,” Stewart said.
Desperate for some type of care and attention, she settled for the man who nearly took her life.
Fortunately, she is now piecing her life back together at a South Side domestic violence shelter. She’s even pursuing her GED in hopes of one day attending Truman College.
However, every day she questions whether the incident could have been prevented.
“I’m not the same anymore,” she said. “I think twice before I act.”
While she isn’t clear about her attacker’s upbringing, she said she believes that domestic violence is a learned behavior that many children adapt from living in an abusive household. She’s not alone in that thought. Therefore, she thinks communities need to reach out to children at a young age and teach them why abuse is wrong.
Anti-violence advocates from all over Illinois gathered in Bronzeville on Tuesday to try to accomplish just that.
The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace and the Chicago Police Department hosted a panel discussion and resource fair aimed at working together to educate domestic violence victims, abusers and families about the resources available to them within their communities.
Jim Harvey, community outreach facilitator for the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace, said changing the violent culture in neighborhoods isn’t an easy task, but can be done if everyone rallies together.
“I’m a native Chicagoan and am a believer in organizing one block at a time,” Harvey said. “Back in my day, block clubs and neighborhood associations made a big difference in maintaining vigilance and communicating with one another effectively. I think we need to get back to that again.”
“We need to take it one neighborhood at a time and let them know what resources are available. Let’s let them know they aren’t alone.”
Yet in Englewood, where police receive 40 to 49 calls a day about domestic violence, according to the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace, residents are already working vigorously to fight the issue.
Melba Miles, better known as “Mama G” around Englewood, has organized six block clubs that work together to spread an anti-domestic violence message to all parts of the neighborhood. In the past few weeks alone, she’s hosted a soup dinner and an event at a neighborhood church where she taught 70 to 80 children about ways to stop domestic violence.
“If the community doesn’t care, who will?” Miles said. “We have to get more involved.”
Other advocates working in Englewood say they have seen lives transformed through simple teachings.
For example, Kate Goetz from the Chicago Safe Start program, said she met a young boy who thought it was funny to pretend to choke his mom. However, after working with him on a few separate occasions, the boy stopped the charade.
Yet Kimberly Lacey, the community relations director at Hartgrove Hospital in Austin, said one of the biggest problems is getting people to open up or seek help for domestic issues.
“It’s constant education,” Lacey said. “You have to constantly educate the community.”