By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer
— Eight-year-old Alia Copeland stood in the rain outside Indiana University Kokomo Tuesday evening holding a sign that read, “Things I learned in kindergarten: Keep your hands to yourself.”
Alia’s mom, Jessica Calderon, who stood beside her in the drizzle, said it’s simple behavior most people follow, but it’s something her dad didn’t know how to do.
Calderon said she grew up with an abusive father, who mistreated her and her mother.
But Calderon was fighting back against that abuse Tuesday evening.
Along with a crowd of more than 300 people, she and her daughter walked a mile on South Washington Street through the chilly rain to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault in Kokomo.
The march was part of the 8th annual Take Back the Night event and Angel Walk, an international rally and march organized within local communities.
“For me, this walk is personal,” Calderon said before heading out from IUK’s Alumni Hall into the drizzling rain. “Having events like this, it gets the word out, and it tells the people who are abusive loud and clear that we’re uniting together to stop it. It not only speaks to survivors but those who are the cause of the violence.”
And the event also helps raise funding for the local domestic violence shelter, which the Family Service Association of Howard County has run since 2003.
Judy Dennis, executive director of the association, said Take Back the Night raised about $26,000 for the shelter last year. She said they hope to raise $30,000 this year.
“We depend a lot on donations,” she said. “These are the type of things that help us maintain the quality of our services.”
Those services include providing clothes, food and medication to the roughly 200 women and children who move into the shelter each year to escape abuse.
“When women come to the shelter, they come with nothing,” Dennis said. “Many just have the clothes on their back. We give them the things they need to live, and they stay with us and begin to put their lives back together and develop some self-sufficiency.”
Self-sufficiency was something Christine Smith said she had to learn after growing up with an abusive father who she said would sometimes hold her head under water to the point where she felt like she would drown.
“Why? It could have been something as simple as not finding something in a drawer when asked,” she told the crowd packed into Alumni Hall during the pre-walk rally.
As a kid, Smith said she had a packed suitcase stashed beneath her bed so she could escape if the chance arose. As she grew older and moved out, the violence left her scarred.
“I became an expert at pushing people away,” she said. “I didn’t like myself and believed I was unlovable. My self esteem was zero.”
But that changed once Smith had her two children. It was then she realized she could break the cycle of violence and be a positive force in their lives.
“The circle of violence gets passed on from generation to generation,” Smith said. “But I did not carry on that cycle. The violence stopped with me. I made a choice to not be as my parents were.”
That’s something Pam Isaac, director of the FSA’s domestic violence program, said the shelter helps do — break the cycle of violence. And she said it has become a cycle in Kokomo, noting the number of victims coming to the shelter has nearly doubled since 2007.
“It’s a pretty significant problem for Kokomo and Howard County,” she said. “Our statistics have risen so much in the last five years that it’s sometimes overwhelming.”
But with events like Take Back the Night, she said she hopes those numbers will plummet.
“This event makes people ask questions,” she said. “It raises awareness, and as awareness goes up, hopefully people will recognize there’s a need here for the shelter. I hope we reach the point where we don’t need it. But today, it’s very much a necessity.”
Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He can be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at email@example.com.