Quincy News

Domestic violence survivors show unbeatable spirit in video

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 11, 2016 9:45 am Updated: Oct. 11, 2016 10:00 am

QUINCY -- Quanada's I Am Unbeatable campaign is empowering battered women by allowing them to share their stories.

During a four-minute video released Oct. 3, two survivors offer graphic accounts of their abuse. Throughout the video, still black-and-white photos depicting domestic violence flash across the screen.

"Just listening to them share their stories, I don't know if there was a dry eye in the room," said photographer Steve Bohnstedt. "It was a tremendous thing for them to do."

Bohnstedt is a former photo editor at The Herald-Whig who now works on freelance projects. Earlier this year, he saw a Facebook post by Quanada Executive Director Megan Duesterhaus describing the financial bind the state's budget impasse has created for the organization. After Bohnstedt shared the story, Donna Ferrato, who has been photographing and documenting domestic abuse cases since the early 1980s, took notice and narrowed her scope to Quanada.

Although Ferrato began I Am Unbeatable several years ago, Quanada became an integral part. Because Ferrato is a New York resident, Bohnstedt personally interviewed the two survivors, as well as Duesterhaus.

"She (Ferrato) is the person who began to show America what domestic violence really is. Her work really transformed many of the laws surrounding domestic violence," he said.

Andrea Wise, a professional photo/video editor, also volunteered for the video project.

Bohnstedt noted how poignant the timing of the project has become. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and sexual assault has recently become a much-discussed topic in the presidential election.

One of the survivors interviewed recalled how Ferrato's book, "Living With the Enemy," saved her life. On trial for almost killing a man who had abused her, "Katherine" said the judge understood her situation after reading the book and offered her help rather than prosecution.

"She said, 'This book helped me so many years ago, now I would like to help,'" Ferrato said of Katherine's interview. "When I hear things like that, I know why I was born and why I do this work."

The second survivor in the video, "Callie," said: "I had four cats. He shot their heads off, and then he turned the rifle on me."

The survivors' names were not used as part of the project in order to protect their identities.

"We changed their names, but Quincy is still a small area, so undoubtedly someone will recognize them," Duesterhaus said.

As the video draws to a close, Callie discusses why she agreed to speak on camera.

"I'm hoping I can stop one more woman from going through it. ...I've seen too many go back, and they don't live through it," Callie said.

With Quanada facing a deficit of about $40,000, Duesterhaus hopes the awareness and understanding raised by the I Am Unbeatable video will help drive some money into the facility.

"We have several state contracts, and one of our state contracts decided, after the fiscal year ended, to reduce the contract. They reduced a contract we had already spent out by $60,000," Duesterhaus said. "Luckily, we have been fiscally responsible managing the budget, but we are really concerned. We are looking for other ways to engage the community. As an awareness piece around social media, this is getting viewed. It's getting shared, and it's getting engaged with."

Duesterhaus said the power of the video lies in the words coming directly from women who have experienced violence.

"It is good for people to see real survivors telling their stories," she said. "Often, we are speaking for them."

Ferrato hopes the campaign can affect some change and become "a policymaker."

"It's all about creating a sense of hope," Ferrato said. "The most important thing about Quanada is, it keeps open the doors of hope."

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