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OHSSWA: Empowering women against domestic violence

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

Four years ago, 17 year old Johanna Orozco made a decision that changed her life forever.

She chose to end an abusive relationship with her boyfriend of two years, Juan Ruiz.

“One night while doing homework and looked at the bruises covering my body, I started to talk to myself – asking ‘why do I let him treat me this way?; ‘Why do I let him put his hands on me?’”

Orozco dialed her boyfriend’s number and broke up with him for what she recalls as the millionth time. Like before, he berated her with threats of violence towards her loved ones. “Often he would beat me till I gave up and said – OK; we are back together.”

Johanna Orozco and Amanda Ruiviejo, Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland

This time it was different. She had made the decision to break free and immediately after hanging up on him she did something she never had before. She confided in her best friends and her grandparents telling them the relationship was over and to be careful.

A week later, Ruiz forcefully entered her room, raped her at knife point, and left with more violent threats against her family.

Orozco confided in friends who encouraged her to press charges and seek medical help. She found little comfort in the justice system – which released Ruiz after three weeks under house arrest.

“Worst part was that I had to find out through rumors in high school,” Orozco, 22, told a room full of women and some men at the Community Care Network on April 9, 2011 at the 8th Annual Empowering Women Conference, organized by Ohio Hispanic Social Service Workers Association.

While on house arrest Ruiz stalked and harassed Orozco and to her surprise she could not get a protection order against him because he was under 18 years of age. “I gave up on the police and told myself I would handle it on my own as best as I can.”

“Why didn’t I leave sooner? Because I was terrified,” she said, for herself, her family and friends. That is the same reason most don’t leave. For others the nightmare only gets worst when they do; “Because you don’t know how they will react or what they will do.”

For her, it did get worst.

One night Ruiz appeared behind her in drive way as she was about to leave – dressed all in black with a mask over his face. “I froze, all I could do was look into those beautiful eyes,” and the barrel of his gun pointing in the face. Before she could react he fired, blowing off the bottom right part of her jaw.

Orozco has made miraculous recovery, after multiple surgeries surgeons reconstructed her face. She completed her GED and was nominated prom queen and now devotes much of her time as a speaker with the Domestic Violence Center educating the public.

“Wake up – this is happening,” she urges listeners who turn a blind eye to the escalating teen dating violence.  She holds nothing back, and shares her experience in vivid detail and her audience listens.  Orozco has made it her mission to educate the public about resources available, to encourage teens suffering in silence to speak up, and said 3 out 10 teenagers are either in an abusive relationship or know someone who is.

 “If someone had talked to me about this and what to do I would have spoken up sooner,” she says.

Her tragedy has changed the landscape of the justice system; due to her efforts, Ohio passed the Shynerra’s Law which protects teenagers in abusive relationships. But Orozco is still vigilant; she is writing a book, and plans to reach many more to highlight the realities of domestic violence.

Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women's Health, 1999 found one-third of US-American women, nearly 31 percent report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

The statics among Latinos and African-Americans are more sobering and violence in on the rise says OHSSWA President Nereida Díaz. She attributes this increase to cultural taboos, lack of education and access to resources; all of which the conference sought to counter. She emphasized there is no one type of physical appearance that gives away an abuser.

Ismael J. Flores, vice president of OHSSWA, said Latino men need to take a prominent role in curbing domestic violence by being aware of the symptoms and standing against it. “Just because we are for empowerment of women does not mean we will not include you – educate yourself,” he said.

The conference featured workshops and speakers from various organizations with a common goal to shed light on domestic violence issues especially those that severely impact families in Latino families.

Orozco said more needs to be done to dispel myths about violence against men. “Men too are victims,” she said – but the resources available to them are rarely available. She said for men the stigma and embarrassment of being abused keeps them quiet. “It is hardly ever reported,” she said.

Natalia Rodas, of Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, said what frustrates her most is the notion that women in abusive relationships deserve it and popular culture does not ostracize icons like Chris Brown for engaging in violent behavior.

Orozco agreed, and said parents need to pay attention and engage their children in conversations and teach them they have a choice to break the cycle of violence.

“We forget abusers often start out as victims themselves.”

Flores said some symptoms to look out for are withdrawal, sudden isolation, and drop of grades.

Unusual bruising and state of fear are other symptoms to look out for. Orozco said she would lie, blame sports or other activities and covered herself up. She said her best friends were a saving grace for her; “They never gave me any negativity but built up my confidence.” This is crucial advice she gives to teens – support your friend when they confide in you. “They are already getting negativity from their boyfriends they don’t need it from you too.”

Important Resources: Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland
24 Hour Hotline: 216.391.HELP (4357)

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center


24 Hour Hotline: (216) 619-6192


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Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/12/11 20:54:16 -0700.





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