Category Archives: Survivor’s Blog

Stories from survivor’s of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Dani’s Journey

Dani Volkman was a happy teen, she would go on camping trips with her adoring family, participated in sports, and was a good student, everything that you would want and expect from your child. Then at age 13 she started dating and that is when everything began to change. Her mother, Kathy started noticing the metamorphosis her daughter was undergoing through the manipulation and pressure exerted on her by the abusive relationship she found herself in. “Her friends changed, and the lying started…” recounts her mother. Still, Dani wasn’t considered an “at risk” teen.  So as Dani’s parents fought to regain control of their daughter, as she was influenced by her then-boyfriend, they ran into multiple roadblocks when trying to find assistance. They did everything they could as parents, they were told that since Dani was not “in the system” there was no programming for her, so they allowed her to be put into the system, but still, it seemed as though it was too late. Eventually, Dani died by an accidental overdose due to an asthma flare while huffing.

Since Dani’s untimely death, the Volkman family has been warriors for change, doing everything in their power to prevent an incident like this from occurring again. They wanted a way to educate youth, parents and our community on teen dating violence and ways to help youth develop healthy coping strategies.  With the help of The Women’s Community, together they created the Dani’s Journey Education Fund.  The Volkman family created an annual bowling fundraiser event in Dani’s name, and have raised funds to support teens and bring educational opportunities to youth, parents, professionals and our community for the past 5 years.  They have been advocates for changing the culture in which we live in.  “They don’t teach this in schools. They teach all these other things but not how to recognize healthy relationships.” Dani’s father, Marc pointed out. This is something The Women’s Community has been striving to change through prevention education seminars in the high schools. “Talk to your children,” stresses Kathy, tears forming in her eyes, “…know who their friends are, take an active role in your children’s lives.”

In order to assist in building the bridge of communication between parents and their teens, The Women’s Community and Dani’s Journey will offer an event, “Time to Talk,” hosted by and held at the Marathon Public Library at 6pm, where we discuss in detail different ways to start talking to your teens and getting effectively involved in their lives. We will hear personal stories, as well as from a mental health therapist and victim advocates. Together we can help our teens build healthy relationships.

Kira Steltenpohl

Kira is a new resident to the city of Wausau.  After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and interning with the Birmingham Police Department she eventually found her role in advocacy. Her position here at The Women’s Community is Children’s Advocate in the Domestic Violence Program.

Social Media in Teen Dating Violence

It comes as no surprise that social media has effected the previous routine in terms of communicating. But how does that reflect in teenage relationships? As technology evolved, with it came social media. Keeping up with the newest social media trend can at times be daunting; however it is important to understand how teens are communicating to each other.  75% of teens use Instagram and Snapchat, while only 66% use Facebook, which is something parents seem to be less and less aware of.

With the usage of social media going up teen relationships have changed primarily in the ways of communication, now each partner has the ability to connect or “check in” with their significant other at any moment, and 11% expect it. This means that is the relationship is already unhealthy, the power the aggressor has is that much stronger. It means that their ability to manipulate their partner is expanded.

This means parents need to be diligent in knowing what their teens are choosing to post of their social media accounts, and maybe having a discussion over the importance of privacy, especially online. As times change, it is important that our conversations and the way we work with kids change along with it.

Kira Steltenpohl

Kira is a new resident to the city of Wausau.  After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and interning with the Birmingham Police Department she eventually found her role in advocacy. Her position here at The Women’s Community is Children’s Advocate in the Domestic Violence Program.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month! This is a month designated by national efforts to raise awareness about abuse in teen and young adult relationships and to promote programs that work to prevent it. Do we really need a whole month to talk about teen dating violence? Is it really a big deal? The answer is an overwhelming YES! As reported by loveisrespect.org, 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional or verbal) from a dating partner, a number that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence and which, by any other standards, would be called an epidemic. Almost 1.5 million high school students nationwide will experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. But while these numbers of teens affected are staggering, 81% of parents polled didn’t believe teen dating violence was an issue. And 67% of teens who experienced violence in a relationship never told anyone about the abuse. Dating violence in teen relationships isn’t just high school hallway drama or “teens being teens”, it’s a very real, very serious issue and it’s time we start talking about it. Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.

So what actually is dating abuse? It’s a pattern of abusive behaviors — usually a series of abusive behaviors over a period of time — used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Every relationship is different, but the things that unhealthy and abusive relationships have in common are issues of power and control. An abusive partner seeks to gain and maintain power and control over their partner. Any young person can experience dating abuse, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, race, ethnicity, religion or culture. And it can happen in any relationship, whether it’s serious or casual. It’s important to know that dating abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence; dating abuse can fall into several categories:

  • Physical Abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
  • Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
  • Sexual Abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.
  • Digital Abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass or threaten a current or ex-dating partner such as demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyberbullying, non-consensual sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on social media.
  • Stalking: Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored or harassed. Stalking can occur online or in person, and may or may not include giving unwanted gifts.
  • Financial Abuse: Exerting power and control over a partner through their finances, including taking or withholding money from a partner, or prohibiting a partner from earning, or spending their money.

Be on the lookout for these common warning signs that a relationship isn’t healthy:

  • Checking cell phones, texts, social media platforms without permission
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity and possessiveness
  • Constant belittling or put-downs
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Constant mood swings towards you
  • Physically inflicting pain or hurt in any way
  • Telling someone what to do, making all the decisions in the relationship
  • Pressuring someone to go further sexually than they are willing

As a youth-serving advocate and prevention educator, I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk about these issues and educate teens and young adults about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. I spent my teen years as a very easily influenced “at-risk youth” and I don’t recall ever having these critical conversations about what is healthy in a relationship — what I deserve in a relationship — versus what isn’t healthy. This topic wasn’t covered at school; I guess it was expected that students were all learning about relationships at home. (The problem with this is that students may only see and experience unhealthy relationships at home and then they only learn to assume that’s what’s normal.) Looking back now, I know I witnessed dangerously unhealthy relationships among peers at the time I was a student but I didn’t know to help because this just wasn’t something that was talked about. In my work with youth today I realize that they are struggling with the same issues around quietly assuming an uncomfortable or unsafe relationship is just the norm and not realizing they have rights and options. I still hear the same comments from adults that teens are “just being dramatic” or “just being teenagers” and that mindset is used to dismiss the severity of unhealthy behaviors in teen relationships. But in my work I’m really seeking to educate adults about talking with teens, listening to teens, taking them seriously and understanding that not feeling listened to and believed means teens aren’t going to be able to tell adults when a relationship has become dangerous – and I know this because I talk to teens who tell me this. I’m beyond grateful that my job lets me be a supportive adult in the lives of teens and young adults who need it and my goal right now for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is to reach out to adults to help bridge this communication gap. It’s time to talk about teen dating violence.

Kimberly Pufahl, Sexual Assault Victim Services Family Advocate

#teenDVmonth

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking happens when a person is forced to perform a particular job against his or her will, under precarious conditions and receiving very little wages or no wages at all. It is considered to be the most prevalent type of trafficking yet it is chronically underreported.

Serving victims of this crime is difficult due to lack of resources, and lack of understanding of the issue. Labor trafficking is a dynamic multifaceted crime that can be presented in many different ways and in different industries, making it hard to be recognized by victims themselves or by the consumer. Generally, labor trafficking victims that are able to ask for help, show signs of physical and psychological abuse; seem disoriented and unaware of their surroundings and in most of the cases, without any of their documentation (passport, visas…) because it is being held by the traffickers.

Some of the industries where cases have been reported include hospitality businesses, in agricultural sites, and in domestic servitude; and immigrants and people with disabilities seem to be at a higher risk for victimization. For example, many immigrant victims are recruited in their country of origin; they are brought into the country under false promises and then held as slaves under a large bondage as the traffickers’ claim they have to pay for the transportation and false documentation to be able to work in the United States. This is just one of the many ways people at risk can become slaves. Although underserved populations are more at risk there are other factors that could potentially put someone at risk of slavery like poverty and addition to name a few.

More information is available at

 http://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/labor-trafficking

For more information or to seek assistance you can contact me, Andrea Oyuela at The Women’s Community, 715-842-5663.

Andrea Oyuela
Bilingual Spanish-Speaking Advocate Program  Coordinator

Human Sex Trafficking

Human sex trafficking, or sexual exploitation, is by definition a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. A commercial sex act is any sex act that is traded for anything of value. These criteria must be met in order to prove human trafficking has occurred.

We often do a thing we don’t want to do; doing so is part of the beautiful mess of being human. Even the healthiest and most loving relationships require sacrifice at some point– a compromise of wants. The self-language might be” I really don’t want to do this, but I have to”. There is, and must be, a tipping point when obligation becomes something more sinister. So, how do we recognize the difference between compromise and obligation, and situations of force, fraud or coercion?

To say “I was forced to do it” is stating that what occurred was compelled and not a natural action. It implies that some sort of power or strength was used to control or persuade me to do it. Fraud is simply deceit or trickery, to intentionally deceive, or to act as an imposter in order to trick someone to commit a certain act. And coercion is extortion. It is to pressure or compel someone to act, or commit acts, against their will. When we make a compromise, we are still choosing to act. Decisions made in a compromise or obligatory situation are still choices we make, we still have the freedom the think out the consequences and make a choice. Force, fraud and coercion take our choice away.

Traffickers are really good at finding personal vulnerabilities in which to induce a person to act against their will. Someone who is being trafficked doesn’t have to be physically tied up or chained to a bed. Psychological and emotional threats have the same kind of power over a person as physical chains, especially if an adolescent is the target. This is why human trafficking is referred to as the crime hidden in plain sight. It is possible for persons being trafficked to walk among us, and unless we are well versed in knowing signs, symptoms and red flags we might not recognize what we are seeing.  There is something you can do. Learn what you can about human trafficking, and then talk about it. You can call The Women’s Community, or visit these recommended websites to learn more about human trafficking:

National Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign

Shared Hope

Polaris Project

Brenda Bayer
Human Trafficking Advocate

Reasons People Become Vulnerable to Trafficking

Human Trafficking, also known as Modern Day Slavery, is quite simply the exploitation of vulnerability. What we know about trafficking survivors is that, in most cases, they have struggled with issues such as poverty, low self-esteem, and homelessness at some point in their life.  Traffickers prey on those vulnerabilities, and use that as a means to “answer” or “solve” their problems. They might offer the promise of a good job so bills can be paid, the possibility of a fun and lucrative modeling career, or they simply might offer love and support in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. These offerings in and of themselves are not a crime. It becomes a crime when the trafficker, or pimp, begins to use force, fraud or coercion to entice someone to participate in activities against their will. It’s hard to believe this happens in the land of the free; but it does. Young boys, girls and women are sexually exploited, trafficked, along the highways and interstates, in hotels and basements of Wisconsin every day. They are often enticed by a girlfriend or boyfriend to do it “just this one time”, so they can pay the bills this month. By “it” I mean have sex with someone for money. The unfortunate truth is—once those personal boundaries are broken, it is almost impossible to say no the next time. And then the next. And the next. This once loving relationship has quickly turned into one of manipulation and control. Traffickers often introduce violence as a means to maintain control– a form of punishment if quotas aren’t met, or if the trafficker feels it’s necessary to remind their victim of who makes the rules.

It is estimated that between eighty and ninety percent of identified trafficking victims experienced some sort of physical or sexual abuse as a child. When a child is abused, they don’t have the opportunity to establish healthy personal boundaries for their bodies, nor do they have an understanding of what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. Love has conditions. Being a survivor of childhood abuse makes individuals even more vulnerable. Traffickers have openly remarked that childhood abusers have already done the work for them: breaking down the personal boundaries and self-esteem of the children— it makes their job a lot easier.

The reality of trafficking is bigger than we realize, but there are several ways we can help: early intervention always makes a positive impact on a child’s life. If you see something that’s not right, say something. There are signs that you can look for that may reveal someone is being trafficked; educate yourself on what the signs are.  You can go to https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs or contact The Women’s Community. If you are concerned about someone you know, or are concerned about behavior you are seeing, please call the local authorities to report a trafficking tip, or the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733.

Brenda Bayer
Human Trafficking Advocate