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Don't forget this number: 558-SAFE

I know you are out there. I hope you are reading this. If not, I hope that a friend is, someone who knows what is going on. This is your chance. There is help. There is hope. All you have to do is call.

I wish we could turn back the clock a month. I wish that someone -- friend, co-worker, relative -- would have tapped Jackie Wisniewski on the shoulder and handed her the phone number: 558-SAFE. If that had happened, she might be alive today.

It is too late for Jackie Wisniewski, the ECMC worker shot dead June 13 in the hospital by trauma surgeon Tim Jorden Jr., her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself. But there are a lot of "Jackies" out there. There are a lot of people who know a "Jackie." The message, for all of them: There is a way out.

I stood Friday morning in the Family Justice Center, 237 Main St., a short foul ball from the downtown baseball stadium. It is where the 558-SAFE phone rings. It is what, until six years ago, we never had: a one-stop shop for any woman trapped in a fist-punctuated, obscenity-filled hell with an abuser.

Behind the double-security door is a cavalry ready to ride to a custom-fitted rescue. An abused woman can pick from a menu of remedies -- from medical care, to an order of protection, to counseling, to a "safe" plan for living with an abuser, to safety at Haven House, the battered woman's shelter.

Whatever you need to escape the abuse," said Tiffany Szymanek, the center's development director, "we have it here."

Szymanek is a mellow-voiced woman with a surprisingly easy smile, given the world of hurt she sees daily.

I know that breaking free is not as simple as it sounds. Violence and intimidation can bind as tightly as ropes and duct tape. That is why, in 2012, we still have horror stories like Jackie's. That is why countless women still live in fear.

We are -- as a society -- in a more enlightened, safer place with domestic violence than we were, say, 20 years ago. No cop answers a domestic call, sees bruises on a woman's face and walks away. No prosecutor shrugs and says there's no case. No judge dismisses battering as a "spat." Yet, time and again, even bright, educated women wait too long to reach out. I do not, in any way, blame them. Their reluctance underlies the strength of an abuser's grip.

"We are about putting power and control back in the hands of the victims," Szymanek said. "Now they make the decisions."

We all know the cautionary tales. Last year, it was the trial of Mo Hassan, who in 2009 beheaded his wife, Assiya. This month, it is Jackie Wisniewski.

"Every time I see a story like [Jackie's], I think, 'I wish she had come to us,' " Szymanek said. "But that just makes us work harder to get the word out."

The word is getting out. More than 1,500 women were helped at the nonprofit center last year. There is a thin silver lining to tragedies like Jackie's: It prompts battered women to act. Szymanek said the center's five "intake" rooms have been filled since the shooting.

Sharon Morgan works at the center. Thirteen years ago, she broke away -- with the help of the YWCA -- from the boyfriend who was beating her.

"I was embarrassed to ask for help," she told me. "But the more help you have, the better your chances of getting away -- especially since he probably already has you isolated [from family and friends]."

Over the years, I have covered a lot of these cases. I have met women who got away. I have seen abusers go to jail. There are happy endings. It starts with the first step.

A life without fear. It should be a fact of life for each of us. Some women, sadly, have to earn it. There is a way out. Pick up the phone. Make the call: 558-SAFE.

email: desmonde@buffnews.com