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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Abuse victim pins her hopes on survival
Six months out of a violent relationship, a woman shares her road to freedom publicly for the first time.
By ERIN SULLIVAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 4, 2007
Sally Burns, executive coordinator of the School of Business at Saint Leo University, looks over the decorated T-shirts that were created by victims of domestic violence.
[Mike Pease | Times]
[Mike Pease | Times]
Cecily Johnson tearfully tells her emotional story of abuse at Saint Leo University during a presentation at the Domestic Violence Art Exhibit.
ST. LEO - It was the first time she spoke publicly about her abuse. She had shared with other women in meetings. But this was different - a press conference with an audience and cameras.
It's only been six months since Cecily Johnson finally broke it off, for good, with her abuser. They met when she was 16 at a friend's house. He was cute and paid attention to her and told her he loved her. Cecily needed that. She felt lost at home, a vapor in the middle of her parents' drama. She needed love. She needed stability. And this handsome man gave her that, at first.
He hit her just before their first Christmas together. It scared her and he apologized. He grew up in an abusive environment, and Cecily thought that if she loved him enough, he could change. When he continued hitting her, she continued making excuses for him.
She never thought she'd end up like this. But who does, really? Cecily is smart and pretty, with blond hair and green eyes. She went to nursing school and has a good job as an LPN.
Her eyes were opened to how vast abuse is - it really is everywhere, not just in trailer parks with uneducated people, as most people think even if they don't voice that in public. It happens to rich people and poor people and old people and children. It happens to men. It happens to mothers whose children hit them. It happens between siblings.
It happens with just words.
Cecily learned that people are not good or evil, that we're all shades of gray. There are reasons why we fall in love and why we stay when reason tells us not to. All people have good sides.
Some people also have really bad ones.
Cecily loved her man so much. She kept thinking if she could just do this - lose weight, cook a better meal, soothe him after he lost yet another job, make him happy, keep the children quiet - he would change. Hope is a strong thing.
Cecily got pregnant with a son and then a daughter. She kept leaving her guy and then taking him back. She'd file police reports and then change her mind. He broke her down, using her insecurities against her. Life was like walking on eggshells, off balance, never knowing if it was a going to be a good day or not.
Finally, she wept on the floor of her kitchen and asked God to take over. She said she prayed and screamed.
"And he reached down into my pit of hell and said, 'Okay, no more,'" Cecily said. "And I was free."
She called Sunrise of Pasco County, a domestic violence organization, and got help. She and her children moved to a secret, safe location.
She learned that she is a good cook.
That she's not fat. That she is an excellent mother.
She can smile at people in public without worrying her guy will scream at her, asking her why she's flirting when she is just being nice.
"I'm finding myself," she said.
On Wednesday morning, Cecily told her story at Saint Leo University's Cannon Memorial Library at the opening of an exhibit called the Clothesline Project, which consists of T-shirts decorated by survivors of abuse. The goal is to air society's dirty laundry. Pasco County Sheriff Bob White spoke, as well as Sunrise CEO Penny Morrill.
Cecily, in a scarlet-colored top and creamy skin, looking much younger than her 32 years, stood at a podium and cried.
"These are not tears of unhappiness," she said, her voice breaking. "These are tears of joy ..."
"Because I survived," she said softly, but firmly. "I survived."
-Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of partner violence.
-Nearly one-third of college students report physically assaulting a partner in the previous year.
-One in four women are abused at some point in their lives.
-Children who witness abuse are twice as likely to become abusers.
Help on call: You are not alone
Sunrise of Pasco County is a full-service domestic violence and sexual assault center providing a safe place for healing and planning a violence-free life. Bilingual services are available. It does not matter if you are in this country legally or not. Help is given to all people and services are free. Sunrise has an emergency shelter, children's programs, senior programs, counseling, legal advocacy and other services.
- If you think you are being abused, call.
- If you think someone you know is being abused and you don't know what to do, call.
- If you are abusing someone and want help to stop, call.
Sunrise needs volunteers, for the organization and the thrift store.
The Web site is sunrisepasco.org and it teaches you how to delete your computer history, if you think your abuser checks what Web sites you've visited.
If you find yourself needing a safe place and help in the Tampa area, there also is The Spring of Tampa Bay, which is the largest domestic violence shelter in Florida. Call (813) 247-5433.
The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 12 at Saint Leo University's Cannon Memorial Library. For directions and times, call (352) 588-8572 or go to clotheslineproject.org. The movement has been around for more than a decade and is now sponsored by Verizon Wireless.
You can donate your old cell phone, regardless of whether it's broken or missing parts, to any Verizon Wireless store. That phone will be refurbished and given to a victim of domestic violence. The program is called HopeLine. For more information, go to verizonwireless.com/hopeline. You also can send phones to:
Verizon Wireless HopeLinec/o ReCellular Inc.2555 Bishop Circle W.Dexter, MI 48130
Sunrise 24-Hour Hotline: (352) 521-3120
Sexual Assault Hotline: (888) 668-7273
Sexual Assault Service (352) 567-1843
Pasco County Sheriff's Office: (352) 521-5100 or (727) 844-7711
Dade City Police Department: (352) 521-1493
Zephyrhills Police Department: (813) 780-0050
State Attorney's Office: (352) 521-4333
Clerk's Office: (352) 521-4512
Bay Area Legal Services: (352) 567-9044
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
For more information on all events, call Sunrise at (352) 521-3358, unless otherwise noted.
Oct. 8: East Pasco County Domestic & Sexual Violence Task Force Meeting - breakfast at the Dade City Women's Club, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Oct. 16: PHCC/East Campus - Community Awareness Fair from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., call Loretta at (352) 521-3120 for more info.
Oct. 18: Wine Tasting and Silent Auction - in Lake Jovita at a private home, tickets are $65 or two for $100, with proceeds going toward Sunrise.
Oct. 24: West Pasco County Task Force Meeting - at the Center of Hope in New Port Richey, noon to 2 p.m., lunch provided, RSVP to (727) 856-5797.
Oct. 25: Candlelight Vigil - to honor victims and survivors of violence. There will be music and poetry. Held on the West lawn of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, 7050 Gall Blvd., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Chairs will be provided.
Sources: Sunrise of Pasco County, Break the Cycle and Verizon Wireless