CAPITOL HEIGHTS – After experiencing domestic violence three years ago at the hands of her daughter’s boyfriend, Cheryl Dessesow wanted all the help she could get.
Dessesow received that help at Community Advocates for Family and Youth (CAFY), a private nonprofit victims’ organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence.
“My family and I were involved in a domestic violence situation where my daughter’s life was in jeopardy,” said Dessesow. “Since it happened at our residence, we (my husband and I) were injured. The person is now incarcerated. My daughter is still alive and the Prince George’s County Court System and CAFY were a big help to us in just re-establishing our lives and getting things back in order.”
The incident occurred late one Saturday night in October 2011. Dessesow’s daughter’s boyfriend showed up at the family home unannounced and was let in by parents who were unaware of any history of domestic violence with their daughter. The man grabbed a knife and launched an attack on their daughter, but her father came to her defense. Cheryl (Mrs. Dessesow) who was resting upstairs was awakened by the sound of the her daughter’s boyfriend kicking in a door.
“When I heard the loud noise, I jumped up and I ran downstairs and saw (the boyfriend) with the knife, my daughter screaming, my husband bleeding,” she said. “I just went into mother mode and I grabbed his foot. This guy is 6’3” and I’m 5’3” and I’m holding him with every bit of strength I got.”
Dessesow’s intervention gave her daughter and 15-month old grandson time to get out of the house and to their neighbor’s house to call 911. Police were not able to arrest the attacker until the following Monday when they located him at his place of employment.
Following the arrest of the attacker, Dessesow sought help from CAFY. While at CAFY, Dessesow said the people there worked with her to help her learn how to relax again and provided counseling support.
“CAFY did a day at the spa for us that was so relaxing,” Dessesow said. “They had a jewelry-making class. They honored the victims at a dinner and they have a hotline that you can just call. I know I can call CAFY and talk to them on the phone. I can go and sit there (at CAFY office) and just talk to them (in person) because they are there all the time.”
CAFY also offers emergency two-night stays to victims of domestic violence. In cases where the victims need to relocate and the abuser causes financial impact, CAFY provides financial assistance for necessities like utilities in terms of security deposits. CAFY also works with some of the local leasing agencies who are willing to give survivors a second chance in terms of rental because they may not have any credit or they may have bad credit.
CAFY Executive Director Arleen Joell encourages victims of domestic violence to follow Dessesow’s example and seek help immediately.
“If you know someone who’s involved in domestic violence, appeal to them to solicit help,” Joell said. “Not necessarily because they’re ready to leave or make a change, but so that they can prepare for the situation that they’re currently in and get out.”
Three years later, Dessesow still benefits from CAFY’s presence in her life and they benefit from her work as one of their volunteers.
“Any time I need them, they are there for me. CAFY has people who have been in the same situation that they are now in,” Dessesow said. “Those people are understanding and compassionate. Seeking help immediately could save your life.”
In the time since the incident occurred, Dessesow has found a way to not be held hostage by the trauma she experienced—she chose to forgive her daughter’s attacker.
“I have called the young man and told him that I forgive him and I have to forgive him because I am a child of God,” Dessesow said. “My reason for forgiving him is because I will not allow him to control my life for the rest of my life.”
Recently, CAFY launched a conversation around their latest campaign, “No Bystanders,” which is designed to help people who are victims of domestic violence.
“What we’re asking people to do is to either tweet their testimony on how they helped a domestic violence survivor or post it on our website,” said Joell. “We think by people sharing their testimony that’s going to encourage others to appeal to survivors.”
Those interested in joining the conversation may do so through using #nobystanders on Twitter.