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Vanguard class teaches domestic violence reality

October 25, 2001

Deirdre Newman

COSTA MESA -- Brenda Aris' husband started abusing her before they

were married. She was beaten on her wedding night and on the night before

she had surgery for cervical cancer.

Her jaw was broken, her ribs cracked, her eye sliced open in various

incidents.

Still, she stayed with her husband, mostly out of fear.

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It wasn't until her husband said, "I'm not going to let you live until

morning," while he was beating her that something defiant awoke within

her.

Aris grabbed a gun from the kitchen and shot her husband dead.

Still believing she deserved the abuse, Aris ran and hid, afraid her

husband would still come after her.

After so many years, she was finally free of her husband's abuse. But

she escaped her domestic prison only to land in a jail cell when she was

convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17 years.

Ten years later, Aris was released, her dignity finally restored from

her involvement in a prison support group for battered women.

Aris and two other victims of domestic violence shared their

experiences with students in a family violence class at Vanguard

University on Wednesday. The forum was part of the college's day to

remember the victims of domestic violence.

Sociology professor Elizabeth Leonard invited the women to speak to

her class to put a human face on domestic violence.

"I like using the more extreme stories because you can't predict which

ones will end up at the lethal level," Leonard said. "Until we deal with

it there, it won't be taken seriously at lower levels."

Before the women spoke, Leonard addressed the most common question

surrounding domestic violence: Why don't the women leave? Asking this

question is making a false assumption, Leonard said, because it puts the

burden of blame on women. In fact, Leonard said there is an increased

risk of fatal abuse after a woman leaves.

All three women said they felt as if they had no recourse to escape

the abuse through family, friends or law enforcement. While some did

leave for a period of time, they eventually returned because they feared

for their own lives and the lives of their children.

"One time, we lived near a minister, and he and his wife heard my

screaming and did nothing because they didn't want to get involved," Aris

said.

Aris and Rose Parker, who also served time for killing her husband,

said they didn't realize they were victims of battered women syndrome

until they met other victims in jail.

"That's when I really understood -- where I got my hope and strength,"

Aris said.

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