For Maxine Lewis, April 4, 1986 will always be her personal 9/11. She had been in an abusive marriage for years, suffering verbal and emotional abuse before it escalated to the physical. This time, however, was different. It was the first time her young children had seen and heard what was happening, and it was the first time she called the police.
“The twin towers of my heart and soul plummeted to the ground that day,” she said. “Every nine seconds, a woman is battered or bruised by her husband or boyfriend. We no longer have to go to foreign lands to encounter a terrorist. They’re lurking in every neighborhood.”
Lewis, who has since dedicated her life to helping other victims of domestic violence, was one of five panelists at a recent Community Roundtable discussion on domestic violence hosted by the Junior League of Birmingham and the YWCA Central Alabama. The event was held to raise awareness and share information about the issue, which affects every community.
Other panelists were Allison Dearing, campus violence and prevention coordinator at the Crisis Center; Priscilla Graven, director of Gateway’s Violence Intervention Program for batterers; Sgt. Kieron Floyd, a Birmingham police officer in the special victims unit of the domestic violence division; and Rhonna Phillips, a mental health counselor and therapist. The discussion was moderated by Jennifer Arsenian, a consultant on violence against women issues.
“The whole purpose of our Community Roundtables is to focus on issues affecting the community,” said Jennifer Couch, who chairs the events for the Junior League. “Domestic violence is so prevalent in the news right now, and we wanted to raise that conversation up to another level.”
After calling police that night, Lewis sought shelter at the Family Violence Center, one of the YWCA’s two emergency shelters for victims, and started attending a victim’s support group. For the past 24 years, she’s been a volunteer leader of the same group, which meets every Monday night at the YW’s downtown Birmingham location.
“I live for Monday nights and the opportunity to help women who now sit where I once sat,” she said, adding that she’s told her story to women at beauty salons, church groups and family reunions. “I go anywhere women gather, and I take advantage of every opportunity,” she said. “I have made myself a committee of one to tell women everywhere how to become a survivor of domestic violence.”
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the YWCA’s 24-hour Crisis Line at (205) 322-4878 or the statewide hotline at (800) 650-6522. For more information about the YWCA’s broad array of domestic violence services, go to http://www.ywcabham.org/domestic-violence-services-and-programs.
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