September 25, 2009
By: Katie Egan


The tragic deaths of Guerline Damas and her five children are getting the positive attention that her family has requested. The slayings are raising hope and awareness among local domestic abuse shelters in Collier and Lee counties.

“This is a family tragedy and we want the community to realize that domestic violence is a serious issue,” Damas’ family said in a statement released this week by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. “If you have friends or family who are in an abusive relationship, please try to get them help. And to those women who are being abused, please love yourself enough to get help.”

The Abuse Counseling and Treatment Center in Fort Myers has seen its numbers triple in the wake of the recent slayings, said Jennifer Benton, a spokeswoman for the shelter.

The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples hasn’t seen an increase in abused women coming forward. However, the shelter’s spokeswoman, Mary Ann Green, believes that the shelter will see an increase once the community comes to terms with the tragedy and the public starts to relate to Damas and her five children.

The Naples shelter is planning to honor Damas and her children in a candlelight vigil on Thursday, Oct. 1, starting at 5 p.m. on the steps of the Collier County Courthouse in East Naples.

“It’s important that we raise awareness and get the word out so people have options, so people do not live in fear,” Benson said.

Both shelters have seen an influx of calls from concerned friends and family members of victims suffering from domestic abuse.

The Naples shelter’s calls came from friends and family members throughout the nation, while the Fort Myers shelter’s calls have been from people seeking information on domestic abuse.

According to a United Nations study released in 2000 titled the “Status of Women,” a woman is beaten every 15 seconds in the United States.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on domestic violence education and prevention, says that more than three women in the U.S. are slain each day by their husband or boyfriends and up to 10 million children experience domestic violence annually.

Domestic violence can be physical, emotional, financial, sexual and psychological, or a combination of these abuses, according to a fact sheet provided by the Naples shelter. Domestic violence affects all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“This is the sad reality of family violence. It touches us all whether or not we are the victim because the victim may be your son, daughter, cousin, neighbor, co-worker, doctor, hairstylist or grandparent,” said Linda Oberhaus, executive director of the Naples shelter.

Green said there are many myths surrounding domestic violence, the most common being that if the abuse were that bad, the woman would just leave. The most dangerous time for a woman suffering from domestic abuse is when she attempts to leave, Green said.

However, not leaving doesn’t mean that domestic abuse is acceptable.

“(Most women) still love their partner and want to believe their partner will change. When you’re in love with someone, you want to think the best of them,” Green said. “There are some signs that domestic violence may turn into a domestic homicide. Once the violence begins to escalate from verbal to physical — being slapped, being hit with an object, being thrown into a wall, etc., it is (urgent) that the victim seek help immediately.

“One in four women will be abused and, unfortunately, the majority never seek help,” she said.

The Naples shelter is teaming up with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to start the Invest Program, which hopes to identify high-risk domestic violence cases and move the victim to counseling.

Green said whether you know someone suffering from domestic violence or you yourself are a victim, seek help by calling the shelter’s 24-hour confidential crisis hot line at (239) 775-1101, going to the shelter, or visiting the Web site at

Anyone who witnesses any type of violence, animal abuse, or even hears an argument between neighbors is urged to call 911.

“Because by tipping off authorities, you may save a life,” Green said.

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