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LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — For Chelsea Gardner, her first childhood memory turned out to be a nightmare.
"(A family member) pushed me down the stairs when I was 5 years old," said the Boswell woman. "It's the one (memory) I've never been able to block out."
The abuse didn't end there. As she grew older, she was hit, called names and her room was randomly ransacked, she said.
However, Gardner didn't let the abuse immobilize her. At age 25, she refuses to be called a helpless victim and instead wears the badge of survival, the Journal & Courier reports (http://on.jconline.com/1sCjr35).
Although she sustained years of child abuse, she is now determined to help other children, men and women who have experienced similar situations. She wants them to know a fighter lives within them and normality is within reach.
Her first step will be to speak at a Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation signing Wednesday, signaling the start of annual YWCA Greater Lafayette events.
"I thought it was a powerful story, because she has clearly been through a lot and come out on the other side," said Jasmine Dowd, director of the YWCA's Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (DVIPP). "If you are in that situation it feels as if you're stuck . but she's clearly proven that's not true."
Other events for the month include a free awareness-raising Zumba class, training for professionals who work with domestic violence victims, and an interpersonal violence awareness luncheon that delves into Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education.
Skye Brown, outreach coordinator for Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA) at Purdue University, will address the development, sexual violence protections and limitations of Title IX.
"The real goal for me is to ensure that this conversation is ongoing," Dowd said.
She tries to highlight ways to prevent domestic violence from occurring, she said.
"One of the most important decisions we make is who we choose to have a relationship with," she said. "It impacts your whole life."
She said looking at all the facets of domestic violence is important, especially when it comes to children.
"People often think the children don't know about it or are not impacted but that's not true," she said. "It's all connected . what they are learning or seeing is what they mimic or look for in a future partner. We are never going to adjust the cycle of abuse until we talk about how we are impacting children."
As a child, Gardner could not find support from other family members, she said. No criminal charges were ever brought against the abuser.
Due to the dangerous situation, an adolescent Gardner stayed away from her Indianapolis home as much as possible — baby-sitting, swimming as part of the high school team, going to her grandfather's house or simply going to "places that I knew were safe," she said.
As soon as she graduated from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis in 2007, she joined the U.S. Navy.
"I joined so I could get away from home and so I could help others and learn a plethora of things," she said.
She is currently studying nursing at Ivy Tech Community College and plans to return to the Navy after graduation.
"I want people to know that even if there is something going on there is light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com
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