LEWISTOWN Picture this: A frog is placed in a small, but perfect pond. As it enjoys the warm water and sunlight, the frog remains unaware that its home has been built on a stove. Slowly, the burner is turned on, increasing the water temperature, and each time the frog tries to adapt. By the time the pond has reached boiling point, it's too late for the frog to escape.
This is how an abusive relationship works, said Marian Goldstine, licensed clinical social worker at Calder Way Counseling in Stage College.
"An abusive relationship is incredibly complicated," Goldstine said. "There's a pattern of behavior that involves emotional and physical abuse that causes the victim to dissociate and rely on false hope. Escaping is a difficult emotional process that continues long after the victim manages to leave the abuser."
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE?BOYER
Ann Wagner, family advocate for The Abuse Network, displays a banner and ribbons for Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the ComPASS Center in Lewistown.
An abusive relationship normally begins with an incredibly charming man sweeping a woman off her feet, Goldstine said. Things are perfect in the beginning, but it's only a matter of time before he starts to separate the victim from her family and friends. He makes her think she's worthless and no one cares about her, Goldstine said.
"The woman starts to go through 'Holocaust syndrome,' where the victim beings to blame herself and believe she's useless," Goldstine said. "'If only I was a better wife, he wouldn't hit me' she thinks. She holds on to the relationship, waiting for things to be like before."
As the relationship continues, physical abuse gets worse and escape seems impossible, Goldstine said.
According to the 2011 fatality report, created by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 118 victims died in 2011 from domestic violence in Pennsylvania. The 60 adult females, 45 adult males and 13 children and teens were beaten, strangled, burned, poisoned, suffocated, tortured and drowned.
"Domestic violence is prevalent in all areas, including ours," said Beth Birch, director of services at The Abuse Network of Mifflin and Juniata counties. "It's most definitely an underreported and hidden crime. It takes time for a victim to come forward and, many times, they don't even know what resources are available to them."
The Abuse Network is the main support service that directly assists victims when leaving an abusive relationship, finding shelter and establishing a new life, Birch said. All services are free and completely confidential, she added.
"October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we are using this time to reach out to the community," Birch said. "We will have a booth at the Reedsville Harvestfest and we have already placed bows on parking meters in downtown Lewistown. We will also be working with some pizza companies to attach domestic violence awareness fliers on pizza boxes."
Agency employees will be at the Harvestfest booth with literature on abuse and pamphlets on services offered, Birch said. The booth will also feature an "empty place at the table," representing those that have lost their lives from domestic violence, she said.
The Abuse Network offers a 24-hour hotline which provides one-on-one assistance to any caller; emergency accompaniment services; an emergency domestic violence shelter; adult and child advocacy services; legal assistance to explain the criminal justice system and client rights; accompaniment and advocacy during police, legal or medical visits; sexual assault, domestic violence and child support groups; empowerment and options counseling; and information and referral development.
"Between hotline calls and walk-ins, we typically serve 450 new victims a year and our shelter houses an average of six women and children a day," Birch said. "We work to create a safe and comforting environment for women and children to come forward. Leaving an abusive relationship is a process and we are willing to help every step of the way."
Sometimes, leaving the abuser can increase the risk of a violent response so it's important to have a safe place to go and a safe plan of action, Goldstine said. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 75 percent of domestic assaults reported to law enforcement happen after the couple has separated.
"When leaving an abuser, it's critical to have a safety plan in case you have to leave quickly," Goldstine said. "Keep the necessary items in one location, to grab quickly if needed, and give an extra set of clothes and document copies to a trusted neighbor, if you end up with less time than planned."
The Domestic Violence Separation Plan states victims should take the following items when leaving: identification, children's birth certificates, personal birth certificate, Social Security cards, school and vaccination records, money, checkbook, ATM card, credit card, car keys, driver's license and registration, medications, welfare identification, work permits, passports, divorce papers, medical records, lease/rental agreement, house deed, mortgage payment records, insurance papers, address book, clothes, pictures, jewelry, child's favorite toys/blanket, items of sentimental value and small objects to sell if needed.
"Many women wait to escape or report the abuse until the situation has gotten worse than imaginable," Birch said. "This type of behavior is not family business and no one should be treated with violence. Know that you have resources and support in the community. Don't be afraid to use them."
Contact The Abuse Network 24 hour hotline at 242-2444 or the main offices at 242-0715 or 447-1885. For more information on the services offered by the network, visit www.abusenetwork.org. Walk-ins are welcome at 31 S. Dorcas St., Ground Floor, Lewistown.