Survivors share stories of courage

Savannah Dingman
Staff Writer

The House of Ruth welcomed members of the community to share personal stories about overcoming domestic violence Oct. 23 at their annual candlelight vigil.

The event was in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, which is celebrated throughout the month of October. 

Following various courageous stories and words, the audience lit candles to honor the 32 people in Los Angeles county who lost their lives to domestic violence this year. To further represent the victims, 32 pairs of shoes were placed near the podium.

“We bring before you the women who tip-toe around their own homes, the women who gave one more chance who won’t make it to tomorrow,” Covina pastor Dave Johnson said, as he led the candle-lighting in prayer.

Both of the women who shared their personal experiences had eventually found their way to the House of Ruth to seek safety for themselves and their children. 

For them, House of Ruth provided a real sense of home, a feeling very different from the homes these women had experienced previously. 

“I lift my voice for our board, staff, and everyone who comes through that door seeking help,” Renee Young, a member of the House of Ruth board of directors, said. 

Eliza Castanon was in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband for 22 years. Her story revealed a continuous cycle of fear. 

Castanon grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. As a young adult Castanon married the man who raped her for fear of going to hell, she said.

“Weekends and holidays became a game of Russian roulette,” Castanon said.

Early in her marriage, her husband became suicidal – like his mother – and one day Castanon found him unresponsive in his truck. 

Although he survived, her husband told Castanon that she was to blame for his attempted suicide. 

This was only one example of the abusive and manipulative tactics Castanon faced. On another occasion, Castanon’s husband, in a pit of rage and a lot of alcohol, instructed Castanon to call the police because he wanted to “bust her face open.” 

When it came to helping their children, Castanon’s husband would pick and choose what he felt was important. 

One day, this caused an explosive argument involving their daughter, and he told the daughter if she didn’t like it she could leave.

Castanon told him that their children are not dogs and “you cannot leave them on the street when you are tired of them.”

Her husband told her that if she didn’t like it, she could pack up and leave too.

“It was like a light switch, I can leave too,” Castanon said.

Castanon packed just one bag and left. 

“It took me five seconds to walk out of that door, but 22 years to make that decision,” Castanon said.

The next few months, Castanon recalls feeling lost and full of fear.

One day, her ex-husband showed up unannounced and held her and the children hostage for eight hours, threatening to end her life right in front of their children. 

After hours passed, he kissed her and told her he would see her later. 

Castanon had enough of his abuse and manipulation, and reached what she described as “rock bottom.” Then, she found House of Ruth.

“Here there is shelter, a safe place to breathe, and counseling for myself and my children. I felt my solid ground crumble, but that ground has strengthened because of House of Ruth,” Castanon said.

Castanon now works as a family therapist in Colton, and her daughter works with at-risk children.

Another woman’s story was told in Spanish and translated to the audience. 

Chino resident Maria Duenas found herself in the hospital because of her ex of nine years, whom she now has a restraining order against.

On May 30, during what Duenas described as an explosive argument, her ex stabbed her in the face with his car key right in front of her son.

“I thought the blood was my tears, until my son saw me and insisted I went to the hospital,” Duenas said.

Duenas needed stitches. At the hospital, she was unsuccessful in coming up with a cover story and the suspicious nurse called the police.

“Even in that moment, I didn’t realize it was domestic violence,” Duenas said.

Duenas learned about House of Ruth through the restraining order process.

“There are no words to describe the trust and sense of belonging the House of Ruth provided me with,” Duenas said. “I learned the whole nine years were abusive. I was able to identify with other survivors and gain strength to value myself.” 

Although these women overcame their circumstances, members from the House of Ruth wanted to represent those who were not so lucky. 

Four women in hoods performed a poem to represent the victims who died from domestic violence.

One of the hooded women asked ‘Do I have to die just for people to recognize the problem?’

“Your life is not theirs to take. If my death has to show you how worthy you are, wake me. Let me know my living was not in vain,” said another. 

In the courtyard, T-shirts with custom designs were showcased, depicting stories and messages from survivors, otherwise known as The Clothesline Project.

“[The T-shirts] were made by women, men and children that received services [at the House of Ruth]. It’s whatever they want to share about their personal life,” said Pat Bell, House of Ruth executive director.

One shirt read, “My worst nightmare was when he put a gun to my head. I saw my life flash before my eyes. I can’t imagine my son without me, my son is all I got.”

The House of Ruth will have a holiday store and a canned food and toy drive in December for the holiday season.

Bell said she looks forward to bringing awareness with an art exhibit in February, which is teen dating violence awareness month.

Savannah Dingman can be reached at

Savannah Dingman

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