The day that her husband pushed her into a wall was the day that Cherie Faus-Smith left.
“It was a feeling of shock and fear,” she said. “The back of my head hit the wall, and two things ran through my mind—my son was in the house, and I was afraid of what Phil* might do next.”
Leading up to that moment, Phil, her husband of six years, often threatened and intimidated her—by slamming knives onto a table in front of her or by accelerating to high rates of speed on the highway, with their young son also in the car. More than once, he threatened to commit suicide.
“When our son Michael* was born, his abuse increased because our child was getting my attention, and he was angry and resentful,” Faus-Smith said.
She considers herself lucky to have had an escape route. She moved into her parents’ Lancaster County home with her son, filed a protection from abuse order, and began the healing process.
“Sometimes, people think women who are abused deserve it, but there are reasons why they stay—financial, emotional, because of the children or because they don’t have resources, but it’s also because there’s a lot of shame,” said Faus-Smith. “It’s a silent epidemic. We’re often afraid to talk about it.”
That’s why October is designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month—to bring the subject into the spotlight and into conversations. Faus-Smith is the keynote speaker at the Oct. 10 “Power of Style Fashion Show: An Evening of Empowerment,” hosted by the YWCA Greater Harrisburg.
She recently authored a book describing her experiences as a domestic violence survivor. Faus-Smith writes about a repeating cycle of abuse—a pattern first set by a teenaged boyfriend, followed by two abusive husbands. Today, at age 50, she is happily married to her third husband of 18 years. They reside in Dauphin County.
“You can succeed and thrive in a relationship even though you suffered before,” Faus-Smith said. “I want to be proof that women can break the cycle of violence.”
Domestic violence, defined by the YWCA, includes physical, verbal, emotional, economic, psychological or sexual abuse such as hitting, name-calling, withholding money or employment, intimidation, harassment and rape.
The single most important fact about domestic violence, according to Mary Quinn, CEO of YWCA Greater Harrisburg, is “that it doesn’t discriminate. A lot of people believe it doesn’t exist in their community or with their coworkers, but it affects all segments of society.”
The YWCA provided services to nearly 3,000 domestic violence victims during the past fiscal year. During that time, 276 women and children used their shelter and 1,300 hotline calls were answered to help victims assess and develop strategies for safety.
Overall, one in three women experience severe physical violence by a partner. Last year, 122 people died as a result of domestic violence in Pennsylvania.
“A lot of people with a superficial understanding of domestic violence say, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave him?’” Quinn said. “But domestic violence isn’t just about violence. It’s about power and control, and it happens gradually over time to a typical victim.”
Last year, the fashion show raised $50,000 for the YWCA’s Violence Intervention and Prevention programs, which offer free medical, legal, housing, employment and counseling services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in Dauphin and Perry counties.
That $50,000 is the equivalent of one week of safe shelter for more than 100 women. Organizers hope to increase both attendance and profits at this year’s 15th annual event.
“It’s a fun evening, but the main driver of the event is domestic violence awareness,” said Pina McCarthy, event co-chair. “It’s an opportunity for women in the area and women-owned businesses to come together.”
The evening’s couture, jewelry, hair and makeup—provided by local, female-owned boutiques and salons—are coordinated into a true runway experience. About 30 volunteers organize the event. Vendors, drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and a raffle of custom jewelry by local designers all add to the evening’s glitz and glam, with a message underneath.
While the focus of fashion is to transform participants in fun, creative ways, the event’s overarching focus goes much deeper—toward the goal of transforming lives.
“This event is about domestic violence, but, as a YWCA, we are really looking to transform lives and create a peaceful, just community for all,” said Quinn. “We aren’t just looking to house someone for a night. We’re looking at helping them break the cycle of violence.”
Looking at the big picture—the prevalence of domestic violence—how does Quinn think we as a society can tackle this issue?
“We should be raising people not to be violent in any way,” she said. “It’s not just about getting services for victims or survivors. It’s about us as a society saying this is unacceptable, speaking up when we see something. It takes someone a minute to ask if they’re safe at home. And it can result in a lot more awareness and people held accountable.”
“The Power of Style Fashion Show: An Evening of Empowerment,” hosted by the YWCA Greater Harrisburg, is set for Thursday, Oct. 10, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Hilton Harrisburg, 1 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ywcahbg.org or at the door.
*Names have been changed