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It was going to be the happiest day of Mary Ellen Gabor's life: Sept. 12, 1981, her 28th birthday -- and her wedding day.

She had met the man of her dreams, a gentle man with good values who treated her like a queen, she said.

But it all began to unravel that day, in his explosive bursts of temper, she said. Looking back now, she sees those temper fits as obvious red flags. But she shrugged them off then. Instead, she began making the first of many excuses.

Gabor is a survivor. A survivor of domestic violence.

She tells her story now, for all to hear, and she'll tell it today inside the new Erie County Family Courthouse to members of Leadership Buffalo, prominent young Western New York leaders in a variety of professional fields.

Gabor will join judges, police lieutenants and the directors of local domestic violence initiatives, who will try to raise awareness among prominent young Buffalo leaders who may not understand the dynamics of violence inside the home.

"We want them to stand up, take notice and realize that this is an epidemic," said Gabor, who works as a community educator on women's issues for Preventionfocus.

Statistics compiled by local advocacy groups show the dimensions of the problem. Each month, 60 to 80 women go to local emergency rooms with injuries resulting from domestic violence; that's two to three each day. And Buffalo police fielded more than 5,000 domestic violence complaints last year.

The details of Gabor's story aren't pretty, filled with particulars about the emotional and physical abuse she says she and her oldest child suffered. She was always apologizing, always vowing to do better, always hoping to fix the problem.

Her response to that abuse -- and her inability to break away from it for a decade -- say a lot about domestic violence and its stranglehold on its victims.

"The longer we lived together, the more I became accustomed to the abuse as a way of life," Gabor said. "I tried to make our home perfect and focus on the kids. I was Susie Homemaker. I was the perfect wife, and it was never good enough."

She loved her husband very much, she added.

But the abuse escalated, and finally, she knew she had to get out.

In the 10 years or so since Gabor first sought help, so much has changed locally to help domestic violence targets, according to her and other experts:

Police responding to domestic violence calls routinely make arrests, rather than just calm down both parties, once they find evidence of physical abuse.

Prosecutors don't allow women to drop the original criminal charges against their batterers.

The establishment of separate domestic violence courts helps judges understand the seriousness of the problem.

Local police and agencies that provide services to abuse victims work much more closely together now, under umbrella groups such as the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence.

Domestic violence, Gabor insists, isn't about anger, alcohol or drugs, though they can contribute to the problem.

"Domestic violence is learned behavior," she explained. "It goes from generation to generation, until efforts are made to stop it. Domestic violence is about power and control."

Gabor is a survivor, but domestic violence continues its assault on her family. Her oldest son, she said, has been physically abusive as well.


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