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‘Prevention is possible,’ advocates say of domestic violence

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Community members who gathered Wednesday evening at South Park learned how watching for more subtle signs of domestic violence can save lives.

Liza Gant, community outreach and social media coordinator for Be More Like Claire, opened with an analogy of someone having a serious medical condition and expecting their intimate partner to operate on them.

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In the analogy, the medical condition represented an intimate partner threatening self-harm to prevent their partner from leaving them.

“That’s completely irrational. Not only are you not obligated, but you’re not qualified,” she said. “It’s more likely they’re manipulating you because they know you care. They know that you would struggle to leave if you knew that they were hurting.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Liza Gant speaks at the candlelight vigil for domestic violence awareness, Oct. 4, 2023.

The analogy was something she had told a teen years ago, and the experience “lit a fire” in her heart for prevention work.

“This small thing I said to a girl could help her navigate out of a situation, a very specific situation that I was in at her age that caused me a lot of grief and pain,” she said.

Gant emphasized the importance of “small, individual changes that will eventually spur legislative, cultural, and person-to-person change.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Shannon VanLandingham speaks at the candlelight vigil for domestic violence awareness.

Shannon VanLandingham founded #BeMoreLikeClaire to carry on the legacy of her daughter, Claire, a promising young Navy dentist who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend on Jan. 3, 2018.

VanLandingham shared stories about her daughter, including how she set out to make the dental appointment for new military recruits going through boot camp “the highlight of their time there” — an endeavor at which she succeeded. 

The story of a bright, compassionate, intelligent young woman took a dark turn as Claire’s mother described her daughter’s relationship with her former boyfriend. The boyfriend was increasingly controlling of Claire, from financial control to demanding her passwords and limiting her ability to spend time with friends.

Sometimes she would call her mom and ask, “Mom, is this healthy?” But VanLandingham didn’t know. She thought maybe sometimes he’s a jerk, “but he always seemed very charming and fit in with our family.” He seemed like a nice guy. She thought maybe he was just immature and didn’t know how to be in a relationship.

Looking back, VanLandingham knows there was more abuse she wishes she had known about.

“Physical abuse is easy to spot,” she said. “But the other [forms of abuse] are much more subtle and hard unless you know what to look for.”

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She realizes now that her daughter’s boyfriend was “using all kinds of coercive control on her.” After her daughter’s murder, VanLandingham began researching and realized the importance of prevention. 

“Every generation has a role to play,” she said of early prevention. “We can teach kids something in third grade and then an adult says, ‘Oh, boys will be boys,’ completely negating something they have just learned.” 

Now VanLandingham’s mission with Claire’s Community is “to challenge and disrupt societal normals around relationship violence through education and awareness.” 

“Our vision is a future with empowered communities that foster healthy relationships, who discourage misogyny and the centering of abusers’ stories.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Sarah Grandgenett

Sarah Grandgenett works as social worker for adolescents and teens in the Wyandotte County area. She teaches coping and communication skills, and she talks with parents about how to have “healthy, high-impact conversations with their children.” 

Grandgenett is also a “professional askable adult” thanks to training offered through Claire’s Community, which teaches tools to connect with youth. “Being an askable adult is prevention.”

She shared tips with the crowd about talking with adolescents and teens about heavy topics: Build rapport first; don’t be defensive or reactive; hold space and listen; notice your “critique to praise” ratio; use humor because “laughter is medicine, and a powerful bonding tool”; don’t judge because “being a kid is tough. Powerful emotions are normal, and so are mistakes”; and avoid identity attacks because “the things that kids love are the keys to their hearts. Ask questions and engage.”

Grandgenett left the audience with a quote from psychotherapist Carl Rogers:

“Before every session I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not have to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever their story is, they need no longer be alone with it. And this is what allows their healing to begin.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Adrianne Nuñez

Adrianne Nuñez, associate director of external affairs at the Willow Domestic Violence Center, spoke about preventing intimate partner violence on a community level and emphasized the importance of being aware of our individual impact on each other.

“Connect with one another; have compassion,” she said. “Support agencies that are doing the work to have people’s basic needs met.” 

Nuñez spoke about how “power and control is a driving force behind domestic violence” and that people may turn to abuse when their needs are unmet, or they feel unloved and unworthy. 

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She shared a story about teaching people in jails and rehabilitation centers about healthy relationships and how trauma affects the brain.

“A lot of them would identify as a survivor,” she said. “They also identified as the abuser.”

“Prevention is possible. Sometimes we don’t really know what we’re doing. If we don’t learn about it, we don’t know,” she said. “I wish so badly that everyone could know what I know, and that everyone could have a better understanding of how they’re functioning in this world. And that’s exactly the sort of work that BeMoreLikeClaire and the Willow are doing.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez closed with a reading at the candlelight vigil for domestic violence awareness, Oct. 4, 2023.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

The Clothesline Project is a collective public exhibit of T-shirts created by survivors of violence and people who have lost loved ones to violence. Each shirt allows viewers to witness the impact of domestic violence in the community.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This was one of numerous events this month that the Willow is part of, along with many community partners. See more at willowdvcenter.org/dvam.

If community coverage like this matters to you, please support The Lawrence Times.
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Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

Get help in Lawrence

Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
File for an order of protection

In Kansas, victim-survivors of stalking and abuse can file for court orders of protection from abuse or stalking online. Visit kspop.org and follow the instructions on the website. The service is available for any county in Kansas. You can also file for a protection order with traditional paper forms; check this link for more information.

Learn the warning signs

Read about warning signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse and learn how you can help at this link.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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