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St. Petersburg Community Shows Support for Survivors of Domestic Abuse

By Kelly Gallagher

Living in a domestic violence situation is a lot like being in prison. Opportunities shrink, friends fade into memories, and rather than a hopeful future, there is only loneliness and fear. Leaving this dark place takes incredible courage- and leaving is just the beginning. Even after survivors have found the strength to step out and speak up, there remains a lot of work to be done to start afresh. Reliable resources are critical for domestic violence survivors to successfully rebuild their lives.

Residents of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area who are looking to leave their tough situations and break the cycle of violence are fortunate to have a strong ally. CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse), an organization that connects survivors to essentials such as housing, clothing, child care, mental health treatment, and justice advocacy, has been assisting survivors since 1977.

"People are often afraid to talk about the issue of domestic violence. It may make them uncomfortable, or perhaps they or someone they know has been affected by it. Actually, that is almost guaranteed," says CASA representative Mo Venouziou. "Roughly one in three women and one in five men experience physical or emotional violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. These are people who need a voice, and the knowledge that groups like ours are here to help them."

Statistics like the ones Venouziou mentioned can be jarring, but stories from people who have had their lives transformed by CASA demonstrate that change is possible. One recent letter to the CASA office details a survivor's experience:

"I was battered, broken, and completely exhausted when I arrived at CASA. I was running from a horrific past and looking to make a fresh start. CASA's domestic violence center took me in like family and step-by-step, helped me to rebuild and repair," the letter states. "I still have a journey ahead of me, but thanks to CASA, I'm better prepared and have a solid foundation to build from. They restored my hope."

CASA runs a 24-hour domestic violence hotline and a domestic violence center where survivors can live in anonymity. The organization also operates violence prevention programs in St. Petersburg-area schools, is involved in the court system, and offers solutions for special populations, such as deaf individuals. CASA's highly trained, dedicated staff works tirelessly to improve the lives of their clients, and the people of St. Petersburg have also shown a marked interest in assisting CASA in aiding domestic violence survivors.

"The community has been incredibly supportive of us through their volunteering, financial contributions, and emotional support," says Venouziou. "Last year volunteers donated 15,942 hours of their time- the equivalent of eight full-time staff members."

Back when CASA began, it had the capacity to accommodate only eight individuals. But thanks to continued efforts of dedicated individuals and the support of St. Petersburg community, the organization strengthened and grew each year, continuously experiencing renovations and improvements. In 2014, CASA began construction of a new 40,000 square foot, 100-bed shelter- and more expansions are planned. Take a look below at a picture taken during the construction of the shelter. Those involved were given a chance to sign one of the steel poles, blessing those who would enter the shelter upon its completion.

"We are also fundraising to build an on-site kennel. Why? More than 70 percent of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters nationwide reported that their batterer threatened, injured, or killed family pets," explains Venouziou. "Would you leave an abusive situation if that meant leaving your dog or cat with the abuser? We don't want people to have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet."

There is no "typical" face of a person who experiences domestic violence- it can happen to both men and women, and to people of all ages and races. Every person deserves to feel safe in their own home and live a fulfilling life. No matter what their backstory is or what their goals are, CASA will be there to help them pick of the pieces and build a positive future.

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Kelly Gallagher studied creative writing at SUNY Oswego and Vermont College of Fine...

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