Women raise awareness of sex assault and domestic violenceAlbert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Marianne Kennedy, left, welcomes Carmen Tarleton to Saturday’s conference on domestic violence and sexual assault in Rutland. Tarleton required a face transplant after her ex-husband atacked her with lye.
Carmen Tarleton said that if she could go back in time to before her estranged husband mutilated and blinded her with lye, she would not change a thing.
“My life now, seven years later, is so much better, in so many ways, than it was before,” Tarleton said.
The Thetford woman was one of the speakers Saturday at a symposium on women speaking out against domestic violence and sexual assault. The event was put on at the Franklin Conference Center by the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter.
“You can get through anything you put your mind to,” Tarleton said. “Sometimes it’s very painful, but the rewards on the other side are that great.”
Tarleton suffered chemical burns over most of her body and underwent a face transplant that took 30 medical professionals 15 hours. Her ex-husband is serving a 30-year sentence for the attack, and Tarleton said she has since forgiven him.
Tarleton’s speech followed a recitation of statistics about domestic violence and sexual assault.
Another speaker was Miss Vermont 2013 Janelle Achee, who has been using her position to increase sexual assault awareness. She said 237,868 sexual assaults are committed nationwide each year, and as few as 10 percent are reported.
She also said 97 percent of rapists will never be convicted.
Herself a survivor — a term preferred over “victim” because it implies the strength to overcome — of both sexual assault and domestic abuse, Achee said people faced with it have to realize that life goes on.
“If I had let being assaulted or having an abusive parent stop my progression, I would be a 6-year-old forever,” she said.
Marianne Kennedy, executive director of the women’s network, Rutland County has the second-highest number of domestic assault charges in the state. The county has 10 percent of Vermont’s population, she said, but 16.6 percent of the total relief-from-abuse orders issued by courts.
In 2012, she said, the Rutland shelter provided 3,900 “shelter nights” and had to turn away 277 families because it lacked the space or facilities.
Kennedy also said research is showing that domestic violence is predictable.
“In epidemiology, something that is predictable is preventable,” she said
Tarleton, though, said her husband had never been violent to her prior to the attack — he had never even cursed at her.
“It wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “When he left me, we stayed friends. We filed for divorce ourselves.”
She said the divorce became less amicable when he demanded an additional $20,000 from her, but she still had no reason to believe he was a danger.
“It’s not going to always be on somebody’s radar,” she said. “Sometimes, the challenges that life gives us are meant to be.”
Tarleton spent three months in an induced coma during which she had dreams ranging from a dinner with Dr. Phil to a voice telling her “Life is a choice.” She said the latter made her feel that she had chosen to live.
“When I woke up, I had a different kind of attitude,” she said. “If I chose to be here, I wasn’t going to be miserable. ... I wanted to reach as high as I could.”
Tarleton said she still had a difficult emotional and physical journey for the first three years following the attack.
“I was sitting in the dark, so I just thought and I changed the way I thought,” she said. “I always find the strength to get through whatever I need to. I appreciate the word ‘survivor,’ but I’m a thriver.”
Keynote speaker and Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Carlson — who said she considered herself more of a “warm-up” than a keynote at the event — talked about community-building efforts and said that showing a community cares about safety and well-being can be empowering.
“A strong, healthy community can offer hope and, in turn, I hope, offer real help to someone in need,” she said. “Let’s all build those stronger communities.”
Tarleton said she wants people to know that getting hurt does not have to be the end of the world.
I know, in my heart, whatever I want to do, I can do. ... The sweetness at the end is so great it makes it all worth it to me. I don’t think I’m special or different. I think everyone has that ability, but they don’t know it.”
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