January 17, 2012

Woman survives abuse, tells story

‘I was this close to death,’ says Betsy Thurston at first of six 2012 meetings scheduled by task force

WATERVILLE -- Betsy Thurston's partner and abuser kidnapped her, broke her pelvis and broke her leg. She lost her job when she couldn't work because of her injuries.

RESOURCES FOR HELP

• The Family Violence Project is at www.familyviolenceproject.org; the crisis line is 1-877-890-7788.
• The Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center is online at www.silentnomore.org; the phone number is 1-800-871-7741.
• The Waterville Police Department may be reached at 680-4700 or 911.
• The Oakland Police Department may be reached at 465-2202 or 911.

The man isolated Thurston and told her that she was insane. Her family and friends melted away.

"It was too painful for them," Thurston said. When she told loved ones of her partner's repeated abuse, they repeatedly pleaded with her to leave.

Why didn't she call police?

"I could read a newspaper," she said. "In three months he would go to court, then he'd go to jail for five days. What good would it do to put my life at risk?"

With $138,000 in unpaid medical bills because of the physical abuse, Thurston summoned her courage and sued the man for negligence in civil court.

While she can not disclose the results of the case, she said her medical bills have been paid.

Today, Thurston is a nurse at an area hospital. She has hope and strength. She also has a Taser stun gun, a 130-pound dog and a security system.

"I was this close to death," Thurston said Friday at the first of six scheduled 2012 meetings of the kNOw Violence Task Force. "Talking about it is how I get healthy."

Thurston is going to do a lot more talking. She's slated to speak at the opening ceremony in July of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence's 15th national conference in Denver, Colo.

"I'm really happy where my life has gone," said Thurston, one member of the task force, an organization that seeks to make Waterville-area communities safe places to live.

Its mission is to raise awareness and provide education through a coordinated community response to domestic and teen dating violence and sexual assault.

Organizations comprising the task force are the Family Violence Project, MensWork, Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center, Healthy Northern Kennebec (formerly called PATCH for Planned Approach to Community Health), Inland Hospital, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Waterville and Oakland police departments and HealthReach Women, Infants & Children.

Thurston had words of encouragement Friday for other members of the force, including Waterville police Sgt. William Bonney.

"Your work does not go in vain," Thurston said. "The next time you respond (to a domestic violence call), they (the victim) might have had enough."

Thurston said a Spruce Run employee in Bangor was her mentor.

Thurston's success story is in stark contrast to what happened last June in the area.

Just before 8 p.m. June 6, Nathaniel Gordon shot his wife, Sarah Gordon, 30, of Winslow, several times on Marie Street as she ran out of her house and down the street to get away from him. Their two children, an 8-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, watched from inside the home. After gunning down his wife, Nathaniel Gordon fled in her car. About an hour later, with Maine State Police in pursuit, he fatally shot himself on Interstate 95 in Gray.

On June 13, Steven Lake shot and killed his estranged wife, Amy Lake, 38, and their children, Coty, 13, and Monica, 12, inside Amy Lake's home on Shore Road in Dexter. Steven Lake had a July 5 court date, where he was scheduled to face charges for threatening Amy Lake and the children with a handgun. Amy Lake had a protection from abuse order against Steven the previous summer and he had reportedly violated it at least five times.

Oakland Police Department Detective Tracey Frost said for every horrific tragedy like last June's, there are 30 or more situations that have good outcomes but aren't publicly known.

Bonney said he is upfront with victims of domestic abuse.

"I'm very honest with them: leaving is the most dangerous time. I don't need to tell them; they know it," Bonney said. "There is life after being a victim and I tell them that I will help them get there. I tell them, 'I'm a phone call away when you're ready.'"

Bonney said it helps to have all the resources of the task force from which to draw, including the availability of safe houses.

"It's not a turf war," Bonney said. "Those days are over."

And Nan Bell, community educator with the Family Violence Project, said, "Really the purpose is to build a supportive network so they (domestic abuse victims) don't fear what's beyond the relationship."

For more information, visit and click the "like" button on the kNOw Violence Task Force Facebook page.

Beth Staples -- 861-9252

bstaples@centralmaine.com

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