Published October 25. 2013 4:00AM Updated October 26. 2013 12:26AM
The late Paige Anne Bennett is on her 73-year-old mother's mind this month, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and every month.
The 46-year-old nursing assistant was shot and killed by her newlywed husband, Chihan Eric Chyung, at their Norwich home in June 2009.
Earlier that spring, Bennett had showed up late to a baby shower with puffy eyes and bruises on her face. She told family members she had been hit by a futon that she and Chyung were moving, but her mother, Sheila Monter of Preston, says it was obvious that Bennett was lying.
"The next day, I called her again and asked if he had hit her, and she denied it," Monter said over the phone this week. "I could tell she wasn't telling the truth, and I knew why. Despite the fact that he had shown himself to be an abuser, she was going to marry him anyway. I felt so helpless, because there was nothing I could do."
When police showed up at Monter's door a few weeks after Bennett and Chyung were married in a small ceremony, the news of her daughter's death didn't come as a big surprise to Monter. Bennett had been a victim of domestic violence "over and over again" during her lifetime, and Monter "lived in fear" that something terrible would happen to her daughter.
Staff and volunteers at Safe Futures, the New London agency formerly known as the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, understand the complicated nature of abusive relationships and want to raise public awareness about domestic violence.
"It's extremely complicated getting out of an abusive relationship, and often you don't know what you've wandered into until that power and abuse has been established," said Emma Palzere-Rae, director of development and communications at Safe Futures. "It's very important that we don't blame the victim, and unless you've been there, you don't understand why it's so hard to leave."
While October is perhaps best known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with its signature pink ribbons, it also is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is celebrated with purple hues. At Safe Futures, a "Power of Purple" campaign is in full swing, with a Hot Cider Walk and rally scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Groton.
Retired Norwich attorney Sheila Horvitz, who created the Rose Conrad Memorial Fund at Safe Futures in 2005 in memory of a client who was killed by her estranged husband, says the Power of Purple events, which are free, are aimed at bringing domestic violence issues out into the open. Hadassah of Eastern Connecticut also is involved.
"We've got to put purple on the map," Horvitz said. "We've got to bring domestic violence into the open because it's associated with so much shame. We want people to recognize it, call the hotline or offer help. It's a terrible, terrible problem in our culture. Add to that the prevalent use of guns or weapons and it's horrific."
One in five female high school students is either physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, according to Horvitz, and one in four American women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and other dignitaries are expected to attend Sunday's event, where various groups and agencies will have informational tables. Hot cider and refreshments will be available, and the first 200 people who register will get a Power of Purple T-shirt.
Participants are urged to wear purple and to spread the message that domestic violence can happen in any walk of society and can have tragic results.
Paige Bennett's family, meanwhile, awaits Chyung's trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 15 in New London Superior Court. Chyung has pleaded not guilty to murder. He admits he killed his wife after they argued about a fishing rod he had just purchased, but said it was an accident.