ELYRIA — Years ago, domestic violence survivor Johanna Orozco-Fraser summoned the strength to leave her hospital room, don her teal evening gown and cover her mouth to go to her high school prom.
Now, in front of a packed classroom of students, Orozco-Fraser, happy and healthy again, has one message to impart on other victims:
“Don’t sit there and hold your breath and wait for a change … because you’ll be the one who ends up changing,” she said.
Orozco-Fraser, now 25, was saved by doctors, surgeons and her grandmother’s support after her abusive ex-boyfriend, Juan Ruiz Jr. shot her in the face on March 5, 2007, in Cleveland. It took years of surgery and therapy before Orozco-Fraser could regain a normal life. Now she gives talks about her story and discusses warning signs of domestic violence.
On Wednesday, Orozco-Fraser came to Lorain County Community College to tell her story to high school and college students.
“My thought was … my students (would hear) a positive message about warning signs,” said LCCC psychology professor Kelly Gruscinski, who has invited Orozco-Fraser to come and talk to her students for the past five years after reading her story in a series of award winning Plain Dealer pieces in 2007. “I fell in love with her.”
And it seems Orozco-Fraser’s presentation didn’t let her down.
In her talk, Orozco-Fraser explained the seemingly innocent beginning of her relationship with high school boyfriend Ruiz. She discussed how it started to turn dangerous and violent, how she stopped trusting him. When she broke up with Ruiz after years of dating, he started sending her presents, flowers and notes, she said. All of which went in the trash.
“If I would have opened those gifts, what would have happened?” Orozco-Fraser asked. “I would have gotten back with him.”
Orozco-Fraser told the class how after the gifts didn’t work, Ruiz started threatening her. How one night, angry over the relationship ending, Ruiz came to her house and raped her at knifepoint.
Then she told the class about the day, shortly after she reported the rape, when she was sitting in her car, looked up and saw Ruiz at the driver’s side window with a gun.
He shot her once in the jaw and ran. Orozco-Fraser’s grandmother found her soon after and rushed her to the hospital where doctors began the lengthy process of reconstructing her lower face.
“I did everything I had to do … but I didn’t get the help I needed,” Orozco-Fraser explained, adding that she reported every instance of harassment and stalking before she was shot. Since the shooting, Orozco-Fraser has had a hand in passing Ohio legislation that allows teenagers to take out protection orders and makes it mandatory for schools to educate teenagers on domestic violence.
After Ruiz was sentenced to 27 years in prison in late 2007, Orozco-Fraser started writing and talking about the incident. She has appeared on “Oprah,” is writing a book and even has a play being made about her life. But her main source of recovery and strength, she said, was to help other women in similar situations.
Gruscinski said after the talk was over, two students from the class stopped by her office to say they were breaking up with their controlling boyfriends that night because of Orozco’-Fraser’s presentation.
“One woman … said she couldn’t believe how humble (Orozco-Fraser) seemed … Humble, grateful, appreciative”
For Virginia Beckman, Genesis House director and an expert on domestic violence cases, it makes perfect sense that Orozco-Fraser’s story would have such an impact.
“There’s so much self blame and embarrassment,” Beckman said about the feelings many domestic violence and stalking victims have about their situations. To know there are other people in their situation makes many victims feel less alone. “It makes them feel normal.”
Orozco-Fraser, who now has a loving husband and a 1-year-old son, said it is difficult to break the domestic abuse cycle. But, she said, it is possible if the survivor loves and has faith in his- or herself.
“They are already strong,” she said.
- 20 percent of children between the ages of 11 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence.
- 40 percent of teenage girls between the ages of 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
- Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up.
- Of the women between the ages of 16-19 murdered between 1993 and 1999, 22 percent were killed by their partner.
- Females aged 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group—at a rate almost triple the national average.
- 44 percent of all students have been in an abusive relationship by the time they graduate from college: 22 percent of all males and more than 50 percent of all females.