Candlelight vigil at YWCA

Christine Powers rearranges the silhouette figures before a candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence, which took place at YWCA in Glendale. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / October 18, 2012)

Joanne Meraz was a successful businesswoman who had everything, except a loving relationship. But when she finally found a partner, her dream was turned upside down.

He initially made her feel special, but soon he became violent. Meraz was trapped “between four walls” in an abusive relationship that left her penniless and friendless, and stopped her from communicating with her son.

“I lived like that for about a year and started to lose my mind, my soul and myself,” she said.

But Meraz's feelings of hopelessness changed when she realized she and her son were “good enough reasons” to leave the relationship. Ending the relationship was difficult, but Meraz said she had to stop it or she was “either going to end up dead” or in jail.

Meraz shared her story Thursday night with a packed room of community members who attended the Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil at the YWCA of Glendale to take a stand against abuse.

People lit candles and observed a moment of silence for domestic violence victims and survivors.

While opening up about the relationship was challenging, Meraz said staffers at the YWCA helped her deal with her pain without judging her.

At 39, Meraz said she has rediscovered herself and is on her way to completing a bachelor's degree.

Meraz's experience, she said, has encouraged her to offer help to women and families who have experienced domestic violence.

Ending domestic violence through education is a community responsibility, YWCA Executive Director Michelle Roberts said.

Last year, the YWCA provided emergency shelter, food and case management services to 51 women and families. More than 500 women received case management, and the facility provided more than 500 hours of mental health services to children.

More victims are reporting domestic violence to local police than in the past, but most abuse goes unreported, Glendale Police Chief De Pompa said.

“All too often the public never knows about it,” he said.

Police respond to domestic violence incidents and provide some level of resolution, but De Pompa said “the problem is that if we don't solve the problem, we will be back, and the cycle of violence continues.”

De Pompa said stopping domestic violence takes a community “willing to step up to the plate and help us deal with the problem.”

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