Cheryl Kravitz remembers wearing long sleeves and long pants, even during the warm weather, when she was living in Oklahoma years go. Kravitz, who now lives in Montgomery County, says she was being abused by her husband at the time and was trying to cover her injuries.
“Logic says that anyone with any self respect would have left, but my self respect was in shreds. There were no options and there was no one to talk with about this,” she said during a press conference at the County Council Office Building on Tuesday.
Kravitz joined several county officials for an announcement about the Walk In Their Shoes campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The campaign, which is a partnership between the county’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and other agencies, involves placing displays in public buildings that tell the stories of domestic violence survivors who have lived in Montgomery County. The displays also will include shoes to symbolize each victim and information about the Montgomery County Family Justice Center in more than a dozen languages.
The Family Justice Center in Rockville, offers services to victims such as counseling, legal advice, immigration legal services, help with protective order petitions and assistance from law enforcement for filing criminal charges.
Kravitz remembers calling the mother of one of her daughter’s friends one night in Oklahoma and asking if her own daughter could spend the night at the friend’s house. After some initial confusion, the friend’s mother asked if Kravitz was being abused, she said.
When Kravitz went back to her house, her husband abused her again, she said. Eventually she made her way to a guest room in the home and fell asleep.
“A few hours later I heard pounding on the front door and it was a police officer and the mother of my daughter’s friend. She had tried to call but I hadn’t heard the phone. She cared and suddenly I cared too,” she said.
Kravitz later got a lifetime protective order against her ex-husband and moved to Montgomery County. She started volunteering at the Family Justice Center and other organizations committed to ending domestic violence.
Kravitz has been a longtime advocate in Montgomery County who has served on the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and has also served on the boards of the Maryland Network to End Domestic Violence and the Governor’s Maryland Family Violence Council. She speaks frequently about her experience as a survivor.
“When a battered person learns they’re not alone in their confusion, their pain and their humiliation, they can take a leap of faith to tell their story. And you can listen,” she said.
“I can honestly say I would not be alive today if someone hadn’t cared enough to help.”
The Walk In Their Shoes displays will be in county libraries, recreation centers, court buildings, police stations, the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Trauma Services Center.
County Council President Gabe Albornoz said Tuesday that it’s important that the public understands how prevalent domestic violence is. One of the first constituent issues he faced as a council member involved an undocumented immigrant who was being abused by her spouse, he said.
“As it turns out she was undocumented, but had no idea she was undocumented because her husband had held over her as a prisoner, requiring her to do all sorts of terrible things,” he said. “And not telling her along the way that he had not filed the paperwork necessary for her to become a permanent resident of the United States.”
Albornoz said domestic abuse has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.
“The financial strain and emotional strain and the substance abuse issues that are part of this awful story that perpetuates itself over and over again becomes worse,” he said.
On Tuesday, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said 58 people in Maryland died as a result of domestic violence in Maryland in 2021, five of whom lived in Montgomery County. Additionally, five people have died of domestic violence so far this year in the county, he said.
The State’s Attorney’s Office also noted that the Family Justice Center saw more than 1,700 new domestic violence cases last year, and is on pace to exceed that number this year.
“This is a vitally important issue. It is literally about saving lives,” he said.
Debbie Feinstein, chair of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and the chief of the Special Victims Division, said Tuesday that sharing personal stories from survivors is key to bringing the issue of domestic violence to light, and sending the message that it cuts across all cultural, racial and gender lines.
“The only way that we can truly prevent domestic violence is to bring it out into the light. To let people know that they’re not alone, and that unfortunately domestic violence is somewhat universal,” she said. “It’s, look, this could be my friend. These could be my shoes. This could be my sister, this could be my brother, this could be my child.”
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org