Joanne survived an abusive marriage, but the problems had begun before she and her husband exchanged vows in front of 350 guests.
"What they didn't know was that my handsome husband was already abusing drugs and me," Joanne told a crowd gathered in front of the gazebo at Monroe Town Hall for a candlelight vigil honoring victims of domestic violence Tuesday night.
"He was successful, charming, generous and very manipulative," she said of her ex.
During her rocky marriage, Joanne thought a move to a new home in Monroe would be the fresh start the couple and their two children needed, but she soon found that her husband was the root of the problem. Joanne said she felt terrorized in her own home, living with a man who was loving one minute, then berating her the next.
Everything came to a head one night in 1987 when he gave her a beating that put her in the hospital. Her husband was arrested that night and Joanne finally allowed her family to become involved after hiding the abuse from them for so long.
"What happened 25 years ago had to happen," she said. "I had to show my children that abuse is wrong. Abuse is terrorism. Why shouldn't it be treated the same?"
Debra Greenwood, president of the Center for Women and Families, introduced Joanne as a survivor during the candlelight vigil. Aside from preventing domestic abuse through education, Greenwood said a goal of CWF is to turn victims into survivors.
During the solemn ceremony, a bell rang out over the crowd every 15 seconds to symbolize the fact that every 15 seconds someone in America falls victim to domestic abuse, whether it is verbal or physical.
Unfortunately, many affected by domestic abuse never completely recover from the physical and mental toll. In the worst cases, they lose their lives. The most emotional part of the vigil was when the names of the 20 victims who were killed in 2011 were read aloud.
Tragic stories of shootings and stabbings by boyfriends, husbands and ex-husbands were told. In one case, a father was shot to death by his son. A woman was strangled. The homicide victims included a one-year-old boy struck by a blunt object and a baby that was shaken to death.
"Since July 1, we have seen a dozen homicides," Greenwood said. "It is traumatizing just to hear the names. I hope when I see you next year we won't have more names."
"I'm happy to report, we've seen a small decrease in domestic violence in Monroe," Greenwood said. "However, we had 93 cases in Monroe. Ninety-three is a big number, but it's down from 114 last year."
Though CWF handled 114 domestic abuse cases last year, Police Chief John Salvatore said officers actually responded to 155 domestic calls last year. Unfortunately, not all of the victims could be convinced to take advantage of outreach that's available to them, Salvatore said.
"Not every call involves physical injury," he said. "It's emotional. It's psychological. It affects a person's self worth and independence."
The chief said police can only take action against abusers when they break the law, but Monroe police officers participate in interviews for children of sexual abuse to assist with prosecutions.
Det. Kelly McFarland works in the schools and with The Center for Women and Families. When she spoke, McFarland praised the staff at CWF for all of the help they provided during police investigations.
Salvatore said, "This region is lucky to have The Center for Women and Families and to have these vigils, so domestic abuse is not kept behind closed doors."
'We're Here for You'
Greenwood touted the support The Center for Women & Families receives in Monroe, from its relationship with the police department to the satellite office CWF has inside Monroe Town Hall. Vida Stone, administrative assistant to the first selectman, was recognized as chairwoman of the CWF Task Force in town and the Masuk Choir performed during the vigil.
"We're here for you," First Selectman Steve Vavrek said while addressing the crowd from the gazebo.
State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th) was unable to make it this year, but Greenwood said Hovey has always been a strong advocate for CWF.
At the end of the vigil, Greenwood encouraged everyone who hears about domestic abuse taking place to tell the victim about the center and the confidential services it offers.
She told the crowd, "I know you are going to be the advocates who will make a difference."