Jason Hewitt and Vera Johnson speak on stage at the Salina Heights Christian Church on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010 during a domestic violence awareness rally. Johnson is the co-chairwoman of the Saline County domestic violence task force; and Jason Hewitt is one of the first people to complete a new batterer's intervention course offered in Salina. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos
Rally aims to save lives
By GARY DEMUTH
Jason Hewitt didn't think he'd be accepted at a domestic violence awareness rally. In fact, he was afraid people there would want to lynch him.
As a former batterer, he thought the audience would be full of "the kind of people that hate people like me."
But the Salina man said it was important to share his story with others.
"I have been a perpetrator of violence all my life -- because of drugs, or because I couldn't get my way," he said. "It was a big step for me to know I could change. I believe there is hope to stop violence. There's no reason for it."
Hewitt was a guest speaker Saturday at Resolve 2010, a rally designed to spread awareness of domestic violence and bring about change, at Salina Heights Christian Church, 801 E. Cloud.
The event was organized by Salinans Michael and Jean Mason. Michael Mason's grandfather, Charles R. Losey, was shot to death Oct. 8 at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center along with his co-worker Rosa Gomez.
They were killed by Gomez' estranged ex-husband Mario Chavez, who court records showed had a history of domestic abuse and had been arrested three times in 2008 for violating a protective order issued to Gomez.
This violent tragedy motivated the Masons to organize the rally as a way to create a positive solution out of a sad situation.
"You can't save everyone, but you can save someone," he said. "That's what we're about."
In addition to Hewitt, guest speakers included Claudette Almaraz, sexual assault victims advocate for the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas; Janell Zimmerman, an officer with the Salina Police Department; and Vera Johnson, co-chairwoman of the Saline County domestic violence task force.
Johnson also is the facilitator of a domestic batterer's intervention course offered in Salina, of which Hewitt was one of the first graduates.
While helping the victims of domestic violence is vitally important, Johnson said, it also is important to help batterers take responsibility for their actions and realize the destructiveness of their ways.
"Often there are children involved in domestic violence situations, so we want to make batterers accountable and try to help make them productive citizens in our community," Johnson said. "We want to restore families if possible, but if the victim wants to move out of the relationship, we support that too, and hope the batterer can move on and move out of that situation."
Hewitt, who spent two-and-a-half years in prison on a drug conviction, said he feels blessed his wife was there for him when he was released just over a year ago.
The couple have five children.
"It was a spiritual awakening I had," he said. "I'm not perfect, but it was nothing compared to what it used to get to. I believe there's hope for everyone."
While Hewitt is a success story, Johnson said, domestic violence doesn't always have a happy ending -- as was the case with Losey and Gomez.
Johnson, who said she was a 12 year victim of domestic abuse, lauded the Masons for creating awareness of the issue in the midst of a family tragedy.
"Standing here in honor of Michael's grandfather is an honor for me," Johnson said. "What could have been made them angry and bitter they've used for productive anger and change."
Zimmerman recited the legal definition of domestic abuse: assault, battery, destruction of property or any other crime between associated individuals or formerly associated individuals, used as a method of coercion, control, revenge or punishment.
This usually involves spouses, a man and woman in an intimate or formerly intimate relationship, or family members that might include parents, children or stepchildren, she said.
While that may be the legal definition, Zimmerman said domestic violence involves more than just spouses or family members -- it can and should involve the entire community.
"We get a lot of third party calls from people who hear a scream or someone being slammed against a wall," she said. "We rely on neighbors and citizens' intervention. That's where we get our most valuable information."
Almaraz said domestic abuse is a much larger issue than many people realize.
"Every day women walk to our door, broken and battered from years of abuse," she said. "Sometimes we see the worst human beings have to offer. They don't have to keep living with someone who says 'I love you' and in the next breath strikes them down.
"People are dying because of domestic violence, and we can stop that."
The rally ended with the lighting of memorial candles in remembrance of the 48 victims who died as a result of domestic violence in Saline County in 2009, according to preliminary statistics by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Of these, Michael Mason said, 34 were adults and 14 were children.
"That's just one year in Saline County alone," he said. "Until you have something happen to you that opens your eyes, you don't realize how bad it is."
nReporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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