SALEM - Salem resident Donna Beery said her story of abuse began at age 4, the first time her father raped her.
Her childhood was one of beatings and sexual abuse. She watched her mother's head go through a wall once. She and her brother took beatings in an effort to protect their younger siblings. Her brother became an abuser, too.
When she grew up, the abuse continued with her first two husbands. She even felt abused by an employer who took advantage of her lack of confidence by demanding that she work even when injured.
Three years ago, she started therapy and learned that she's not stupid and worthless as she was told over and over. She matters - and that was the message she delivered to all victims of domestic violence during a program at Kent State University Salem campus on Thursday.
"I believe I am now on the right path. I am someone with something to contribute," she said to a small audience.
The event was hosted by KSU Salem Student Government and included a talk by Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone. Representatives of the Christina House domestic violence shelter and counselors were also on hand.
"We're just trying to get out and do something for the community," Student Government President Mike Bentfeld said.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Beery, 54, is married again and said her husband is very supportive. She has three daughters. She's majoring in criminal justice at KSU and said "my plan in life is to help others."
Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she said she has the strength now to continue forward.
"Slowly, but surely, I'm getting okay. I am a survivor," she said.
She read a message for victims, telling them "you are important. You are beautiful and you deserve the best. This is your life - take it back."
She started her talk about leading a double life by saying "I don't want you to feel sorry for me."
Back then, she said she thought their family life was normal. When she met a guy who wanted to marry her, she thought that was her chance to escape, but he was an abuser, too. After she left him, he made accusations against her involving their children and she had to endure being investigated by child authorities.
Her second husband drank, abused her and had her trapped. He listened to her phone calls, read all her mail and controlled her life. During a birthday party for her at someone else's home, a friend finally stepped in, kicked him out and helped her get away.
When her father died, she didn't know what she was supposed to do and went into a great depression. With counseling, she's put her life back together and knows who she is and has the confidence she was never allowed to feel before.
Stone talked about the domestic violence laws and said in his experience, 90 percent of the time the male is the aggressor in cases of domestic violence. He said there are all types of situations and he's seen his share of domestics as a police officer.
The Sheriff's Office handled 333 domestic disputes in 2010, with 52 domestic violence charges filed, which equates to about one a week. In 2011, the numbers decreased a little to 305 domestic disputes and 48 domestic violence charges. So far in 2012, the office has handled 272 domestic disputes and filed 32 domestic violence charges.
"They're the worst calls to go to...they're dangerous," he said, adding "you never know what you're going to find."
At age 22, he was a young police officer working in Washingtonville and handled his first bad domestic, an image he'll never forget, with blood on the walls.
"It looked like something out of a horror scene," he said.
He told other stories of abuse cases, about wives beaten to a pulp and begging officers not to arrest their husbands, of children seeing things that children should not see. He also spoke about the economic impact on the community and his observation that alcohol seems to be a factor in many domestics.
When asked if anything has helped, he said it's no longer the secret it used to be and there is help out there from places like the Christina Center and Christina House.
The Christina House can be reached at 330-420-0036.