Attendees at the Domestic Violence Summit were not only equipped with information, but encouraged to use it to take action.
At The Signal’s second annual event on Friday, service providers, survivors and Santa Clarita community members gathered at College of the Canyons to learn more about helping victims and breaking the stigma surrounding domestic violence.
“I’m hoping this summit will give you information you need to help others dealing with abuse,” Russ Briley, The Signal’s Executive Vice President of Community Relations and Audience Development said.
Briley shared his own story as a survivor of domestic violence, having been abused physically and emotionally by his stepfather. He did not share his story so people would feel sorry for him, but to shed light on his heart for victims and empathy for what they have experienced, he said.
Pointing to the 12 million Americans who suffer from domestic abuse each year, Mayor Cameron Smyth said homes need to be a place where men, women and children feel safe.
“This is occurring in your home,” Smyth said. “Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary.”
Santa Clarita community members should not be bystanders, but face issues of domestic violence head on, according to Smyth.
“It’s important to come together and share your stories,” Smyth said.
Longtime Santa Clarita resident Ana Figueredo was one of several to share her story as a survivor of domestic violence.
After 27 years in an abusive marriage and nine restraining orders, Figueredo found the courage to leave her husband and start anew.
She said she remained in the relationship for so long because of shame, fear and a belief that God wanted her to stay faithful to her husband.
“There is no god on this earth or any higher power that would expect us to suffer,” Figueredo said. “There is no excuse on this earth that anyone should put a finger on you.”
Heeding sound advice from close confidants, she realized the safety and happiness of her and her daughter was most important and found the courage to leave.
While she said the emotional scars will always remain, she has moved forward and is happy how far she has come.
“Now that I’m away from the whole situation, I’m really enjoying life,” she said.
Keynote speaker Patricia Wenskunas, Crime Survivors, Inc. CEO and founder, said it is her mission to stop the “shame and blame” associated with domestic violence.
“It is our place and our position to be able to give a voice to the voiceless, Wenskunas said. “Hitting and abuse and violence will not be tolerated.”
A survivor of domestic violence as a child and of attempted murder as an adult, Wenskunas said her family told her to keep quiet about her experiences as to not “break up the family.”
These experiences should not be kept secret, she emphasized repeatedly, but should be shared and overcome.
The violence she experienced was not her choice, but she said it is her choice to stand up and tell her story.
“I’m someone beyond what my past is supposed to be defined as,” she said.
Somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of victims do not report that they are experiencing domestic violence, Wenskunas cited.
She’s proud to be the squeaky wheel who sheds light on this injustice, she said.
Wenskunas encouraged the audience to take care of themselves and have fun to ease their anxiety and stress, even if that means blowing bubbles or buying Play-Doh, she said. This way, they will be better equipped to take care of others.
“What are you going to do when you leave this room?” Wenskunas said, challenging the audience to take what they learned with them.