Breaking the cycle of abuse

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 2:26 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Cathie Chansamone is in the minority.

You might think suffering verbal and physical abuse from her husband for nine years would be enough to call her story rare by itself, but unfortunately it's not. It was the day he threatened her two children, a 6-year-old son and a daughter with autism, that changed it all.

"I knew I wanted to get out, I just didn't have the money," Chansamone said. "I had no friends to go to, didn't have a lot of close contact with my family; because that's what most abusers do, they kind of cut you off as best they can."

The minority part of her story is that she was able to eventually walk away for good. Twenty-one years ago, she did what most women don't do: she packed up her two children and left.

"He just got more and more violent towards the end," she said. "He took a swing at me, and my daughter, with an ax. … I realized that day that he really could kill us."

With nowhere to go and little money, Chansoamone slowly made a new life for herself and her kids — eventually finding a home, a job and a future.

When she first saw the video of a burning home outside Seattle on Feb. 5 and heard the news that Charlie and Braden Powell had been killed by their father, Josh Powell, she couldn't help but think of her story and all those times she hesitated to leave. It could have been her kids.

"If you're thinking about not getting out, look what happened to the Powell kids. They didn't make it past adulthood," Chansamone said.

Sadly, there are many Utah children who met the same fate as Charlie and Braden, including:

• Ethan Stacy, 4, was brutally beaten to death not long after he arrived in Layton from Virginia to spend the summer with his biological mother. His body was disfigured and buried in a remote area of Powder Mountain in May 2010. His mother and stepfather, Stephanie and Nathan Sloop, are charged with capital murder.

• Shelby Andrews, of Syracuse, was only 10 when she died on Aug. 1, 2006. She had been locked in a linen closet where she struggled to breathe and choked on her own vomit. Her abusive stepmother and father, Angela and Ryan Andrews, are serving life prison sentences.

• July 5, 2011, Dania Rosiles was just 2 years old when she was beaten to death in South Salt Lake by her mother's boyfriend, Juan Rivera-Aguilar, who admitted he "lost it."

How could no one have known?  Why didn't anyone say anything? Most people who suspect an abusive household rarely speak out, says Asha Parekh, the director of the Family Justice Center in Salt Lake City.

"I think there's still a lot of shame associated with being a victim in our society," she explained.

Parekh's job is to spread the message that there is help out there. She says the first step people should take is to report abuse by calling the Family Justice Center's hotline. A real person will take down the information and notify either police or the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.

Next, Parekh says, an investigator will review the case and determine the next course of action. If it's an immediate call for help, they can dispatch police. But even if a person just needs to talk to someone because they are unsure what to do, hotline workers are there to listen.

"Many times, victims are really afraid to reach out for help," Parekh said. "They don't understand what's going on, they don't know where to call, or they are just afraid to talk to anyone outside the family about what's going on."

DCFS says it investigated nearly 20,000 complaints of child abuse in 2011 alone; 7,000 of those were found to have some merit.

The most common abuse allegations involved children witnessing domestic violence and kids being abused physically or sexually themselves.

Chansamone says above all, despite the fear she felt for nearly a decade, making that call and taking her kids out of an abusive home saved their lives.

"I think that goes through a lot of women's minds: How to find a house? How are you going to manage it? Where are you going to come up with the money? How are you going to move out?" Chansamone said. "If you don't have any family and friends to go to, you become a sitting duck … and abusers often know that."

The following are some of the signs of abuse to look for if someone is concerned about a child. With regard to physical abuse:

• Look for unexpected burns, bruises or black eyes.

• Another possible sign of abuse is if he/she is absent from school frequently.

• A child may also cower as another adult approaches.

Signs of sexual abuse include:

• Difficulty walking or sitting.

• The person might demonstrate a bizarre or sophisticated knowledge of sexual activity at a very young age.

• The child might frequently attempt to run away.

• Parents may also seem extremely overprotective of children around other kids, especially kids of the opposite sex.

The Family Justice Center or YWCA hotline is 801-537-8600. The statewide Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-678-9399. Both hotlines are open 24 hours.

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