Grundy County’s Take Back the Night featured speaker was not only an author, but local survivor.
Shirley Kiss of Morris, known to many as the original executive director of We Care of Grundy County, is also a domestic violence survivor. She wrote of her life experiences growing up in an emotionally abusive home and then living through a physically abusive marriage in her book “In Spite Of.”
“There is hope, in spite of. I know this because I am here in spite of,” said Kiss to the crowd at the Take Back the Night event Wednesday night in front of the Grundy County Courthouse.
The event kicked off with a welcome by Megan Miller, coordinator for Guardian Angel Community Services. It’s Groundwork Domestic Violence Program provided more than 900 hours of advocacy, counseling and crisis intervention to 80 Grundy County residents in its last fiscal year. It also did almost 370 hours of court orientation for more than 200 Grundy County residents.
Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland took time to educate the crowd that domestic violence is indeed happening in Grundy County and as a community people need to do their part to stop it and prevent it.
“Did you know that one in three women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes? One in three,” he said. “That’s more than breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer combined. Still more than one-third have never discussed the issue. That is why we are here tonight.”
In Grundy County there were 128 victims of domestic battery and violations of orders of protection last year, Helland said. To represent them, 128 luminary bags were lit and placed along the walkway to the courthouse.
To try and reduce this number in the county, Helland said he has implemented changes in the domestic violence diversion program that requires offenders to have more accountability.
In addition, he has put in place a new program that if a domestic violence offender is an alcoholic, his office will be asking judges to require them to refrain from alcohol consumption and wear a continuous alcohol monitoring bracelet to keep the office informed 24 hours a day whether the offender is consuming alcohol. If they are and it violates their conditions of bond or probation, they will return to jail, he said.
Kiss took the statistics shared by the previous speakers and made them hit home for the crowd seated before her on the courthouse lawn.
She grew up in a home where her parents constantly told her she was worthless. Nothing she did was good enough and she was regularly told she wasn’t needed, she said.
“There was a time that I didn’t think I belonged on this earth,” Kiss said.
Then at 18 years old she met a man who told her the opposite. He told her she was pretty and smart and eventually asked her to be his wife.
“He was not just offering me marriage, he was offering me life away from my abusive parents ... he was my hero,” she said.
And then shortly after they were married they argued about what they were going to do one evening. He wanted to go to a tavern, she wanted to spend some time at a local park and enjoy the day.
“I felt something across the back of my head and I wound up on the closet floor,” Kiss said.
Her husband had hit her so hard she passed out. When she woke up he told her to stop faking it and clean herself up to go out. When she told him she would not stand to be treated that way, he fell to his knees and begged for forgiveness.
As the years went on this continued, but now they had children and Kiss said she had to protect them.
“It was the 1940s, I had never even heard of a single parent in those days,” she said.
There were no Guardian Angel groups or state’s attorney’s offices to turn to for help from abusive husbands then, she said.
Nowadays she said the word “abuse” is heard less and the word “bullying” is heard more, but bullying is abuse.
No matter the word and no matter the type of abuse, there is help, Kiss said.
“There is hope out there. Take a look around out here, there are things we can do,” she said.
The event closed with dance performances by the On Broadway Dancers of Diamond.
For information on available programs and assistance visit gacsprograms.org or call the domestic violence hotline at 815-729-1228.