Cecelia Dunn felt her husband’s hand wrap around her neck after he pinned her down. As she struggled to free herself, the realization came quickly.
“I began to think, wow, ‘He’s really trying to kill me,’” Dunn said Monday, recalling the violent April 2017 incident. “I mean, it was such a shock. I guess it shouldn’t have been, but it was.”
The man pinning her down was her second husband. He had previously abused her during their 10-year marriage. When he arrived drunk at her home earlier that day, she had tried helping him.
After pinning her down and attempting to choke her, he grabbed a hammer she had earlier set down in a corner and struck her in the head.
“At that point, I just kept repeating, ‘Please stop, if you do, I will not call the police,” Dunn said. “Cowards that most abusers are, that finally settled in and he stopped.”
She was able to call 911. Police arrived shortly.
Today, Dunn proudly calls herself a survivor. She shared her story on Monday to mark the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She was joined by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and Lt. Adam Hernandez outside the City and County Building.
The speakers highlighted the importance of places like the Rose Andom Center in Denver, a family justice center providing a variety of resources for domestic violence victims under one roof. Dunn herself received assistance from the center.
“I am here today not because I wanted to be but because I felt I had to be,” Dunn said. She had previously contacted the Rose Andom Center about filing for divorce. “They helped me in every possible aspect you can imagine, from counseling to housing to encouragements, supports, uplifting, letting you know you’re not alone.”
Domestic violence is a personal topic for Hancock, whose sister Karen was fatally shot in a domestic violence incident in February 2002. He often thinks back about what he could have done for his sister, who left behind two children.
“I often think about the moment that I discovered her body,” Hancock said. “What would it have been like had I known she was being abused. If she had just opened her mouth to tell us she was going through hell.”
Hancock said survivors don’t need to “suffer in silence.”
“Here’s the message: You do not deserve what is happening to you,” Hancock said. “Nor is it your fault. There are resources. There are those of us who are here to help.”
The Rose Andom Center opened in June 2016 after a 10-year planning period.
Executive Director Margaret Abrams said the city is fortunate to have a group of service providers working with domestic violence victims, but it can be challenging to find those resources.
“So the conversation and the planning was, how do we make access to those services easier for victims?” Abrams said. “Bringing everyone together under one roof was basically the idea.”
The center is located at 1330 Fox St. It connects victims with law enforcement, help getting protection orders, counseling for parents and children, divorce and custody guidance, referrals for people experiencing homelessness and services for teenage victims.
Abrams said victims seeking help can stop by their office or call them to begin services. She’s aware of how hard it can be for victims to get help.
“So if a victim walks in the door, we’re going to do everything we can to get her connected that day,” Abrams said.
Hancock said the center provides services “in one safe place.” He said the center assisted 1,196 new survivors in 2017. Abrams said Denver police typically respond to about 5,000 domestic violence calls a year.
The police department has 11 detectives and two sergeants working at the Rose Andom Center. Hernandez, who works for the Domestic Violence Unit in the department’s Major Crimes Division, said the center is the key for what Denver is doing to address domestic violence.
The department is among the 19 partnering agencies working with the center to provide wrap-around services for victims.
“Our victims are going over there and getting all the necessary resources,” Hernandez said.
Pazen said assisting people navigating the process to get help for these situations a top priority for the department.
“Although we have these resources in place, we recognize that the police department alone cannot arrest its way out of this challenge,” Pazen said. “We have to work together to come up with new and innovative strategies, new ways of partnering to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place.”
Letting people know they’re not alone is a big part of helping survivors.
“You have to know that you’re not alone,” Dunn said, “because we often convince ourselves we are and that is like the kiss of death.”