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Turning Out, Not Away

Nearly 100 people gathered Saturday in downtown Medford to rally and march, with a goal of raising awareness about a rash of domestic-violence incidents that have resulted in seven homicides in 2011.

The rally was the brainchild of 27-year-old Caitlin Fears, who said she wanted to end the "open season on women and children in the Rogue Valley."

But at least one of the participants in Saturday's event proved that domestic violence crosses gender boundaries. And that it doesn't have to end in tragedy.

As a child, Edward Weston had an abusive father. As an adult he was part of violent marriage. But now he can point to two adult sons and a granddaughter whose lives haven't been ensnared by such behavior.

"I got sober and stopped drinking," said Weston, moments before the Community Against Domestic Violence rally and march began at the Evergreen Parking Garage and ended at Central Medford High School. "I started meeting with people who taught me about respect.

"As a child growing up in New York City, I was physically, verbally and mentally abused," said Weston, a retired substance-abuse counselor for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. "When I was married, I became an alcoholic and I was abusive."

The relationship was tempestuous and ended in divorce, he said, after his former wife threw a knife at him, which missed and hit their 3-year-old son.

"I loved her to death, but I was from the school where the man is the boss," said Weston, who moved to Medford four years ago. "When I sobered up, she got abusive to me and the kids. I had to lock the door, but I stayed with her."

He was awarded child custody after the divorce and began building relationships that helped him break the cycle for the next generation.

"It takes courage to ask people, 'How are things going at home?' " Weston said. "It's hard for abusers to say there is something wrong."

Today his stepson is 33 and his son is 29.

"My stepson got religion," Weston said. "He was privy to my abuse and wrote a letter telling me he had to forgive me. My 29-year-old never saw it coming from me, and the cycle was broken with him. He has an 8-year-old daughter and a very loving relationship."

While Weston has never forgotten where he came from, others in Saturday's march have fresher memories and lingering pain.

Like many victims, Ann Turner wasn't sure which way to turn three decades ago. The turning point, she said, was when her former husband, while drunk, kicked at one of their children.

"That's when I picked up the kids and called the police," Turner said. "I was very young, I didn't know anything about it, I just lived in it. Fortunately, I got with a group of women who were in similar circumstances and got counseling."

Recovery was slow.

"It seemed like forever," she said. "I was grieving through the transition and loss of a relationship. It's an ongoing thing, and you need to be around other people who can help you keep things in perspective."

Fear can work two ways in domestic violence, but once her husband put a .357 magnum to her head, she said, there was no going back.

"I had to deal with it for a long time," said Jane McClain, of Medford. "People get into those situations because they don't have self-esteem and won't leave because they don't think they can do better."

Even when domestic violence is absent from a household, it may lurk under a friend or relative's roof. Such was the case for Del Brown, whose cousin was a victim.

"People have to put their foot down, bite their tongue and move on," Brown said. "Some women feel trapped and have no other outlook."

His cousin eventually moved to Atlanta, where she could go to a community center for help.

"Being able to work with a person one-on-one helped," he said. "Working directly with a person, versus a group, helps for some people."

Tera LaRue hasn't been a victim, but as a Dunn House volunteer she has seen the effects of domestic violence and encourages people to speak up.

"It's OK to be nosey and show support," said LaRue, who knows how to get physical on a roller-derby track. "People should speak up and say something."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Nearly 100 people gathered in downtown Medford to participate in Saturday’s Community Against Domestic Violence march and rally. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore