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MARICOPA — In hopes of breaking the silence that often surrounds domestic violence, dozens of abuse survivors, awareness advocates and supporters gathered Friday to share stories of empowerment and encouragement.

The Maricopa Women’s Empowerment Luncheon, hosted by Against Abuse Inc., is held each year to honor abuse survivors.

“The only way domestic violence ends is by telling of the stories and breaking the silence,” said Gabriela Markley, an Against Abuse Inc. shelter director.

Five women spoke during the event, each sharing their personal tales of falling victim to abuse, then finding the courage to leave. One woman shared part of her story in a song.

“The first step in leaving is the most important,” Markley said. “It shouldn’t be diminished because it’s the first step to the rest of your life. It’s not easy.”

Most of the women who spoke had received services from Casa Grande-based Against Abuse Inc., a nonprofit agency that has provided services in Pinal County since 1981.

Against Abuse operates two crisis shelters in Pinal County — a 32-bed facility in Casa Grande and a 24-bed facility in Maricopa. It also has transitional housing to help women prepare for life after living in a shelter.

Earlier this year, the organization added congregate transitional housing to its list of services.

But the services offered by Against Abuse go beyond sheltering survivors. The organization also offers group and out-patient, community-based services, supervised visitation and safe exchange services, case management, sexual assault advocacy and services, animal safe homes, volunteer programs and a thrift store/clothing bank.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, Against Abuse served 1,045 women, children and men who were victims of domestic or sexual violence.

The organization provided 14,184 bed nights for 271 adults and 230 children at its two shelters. Its 16 transitional living spaces housed 45 people.

About 223 people received 4,566 hours of non-shelter domestic and sexual violence services and support.

Much of the money to cover Against Abuse Inc.’s operating expenses is raised through its two biggest annual fundraising events, the Taste of Casa Grande in Casa Grande and the Seeds of Change gala in Maricopa.

The Taste of Casa Grande, which features tastings from some of the area’s top restaurants as well as raffles and entertainment, is held every year in October to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year, Taste of Casa Grande is set for Oct. 20 at Eva’s Fine Mexican Food restaurant. Tickets are $45 each.

Since it was founded decades ago, Against Abuse has grown to become one of the busiest domestic violence service organizations in the state.

“Out of Arizona’s 34 DES (Department of Economic Security)-funded domestic violence programs, Against Abuse Inc. provided the fourth highest number of shelter bed nights for men, women and children,” the organization’s 2018-19 annual report said.

One woman at the Friday event told attendees that having domestic violence counselors available to help when she was ready to leave her abuser saved her life.

“Support groups and services also help to heal the psychological wounds. All were critical to my survival,” she said. “Silence is what hides the violence. It’s time we stopped asking ‘why did they stay in an abusive situation?’ and shift to asking why abusers abuse.”

Tickets to Taste of Casa Grande may be purchased on the Against Abuse website at www.against-abuse.org or www.tasteofcasagrande.com.

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