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ANNUAL CONERT TAKES AIM AT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

ANNUAL CONERT TAKES AIM AT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Annual Concert Takes Aim at Domestic Violence

By Patrick Rushton, Citizens' Voice columnist / Published: February 6, 2017

On the afternoon of June 22, 2009, the lives of Terry and Theresa Renninger and their family changed forever.

Their 26-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was found dead in her Fairmount Township home that day, victim of a gunshot wound to her head. Police and her family immediately suspected she was killed by her estranged husband, Brian Amrowski. Several days later, Amrowski was arrested in Carson City, Nev., in possession of Rebecca’s rental car. He was charged with theft and returned to Pennsylvania. Nearly a year later, as law enforcement officials were headed to a magisterial district judge to file homicide charges against Amrowski, he hanged himself.

Since Rebecca’s death, Renninger has made raising awareness of domestic violence his life’s mission. Last August, I was in the audience when Renninger spoke to the White Haven Lions Club about how domestic violence led to Rebecca’s death. His goal was not to elicit sympathy from the service club members, but to raise awareness of the dynamics of domestic violence. Renninger described how Amrowski, over time, managed to take control of his daughter’s life, attack her self-esteem, and isolate her from her family — classic tactics of abusers. The club members were so moved by Renninger’s talk that they asked what they could do to raise awareness and prevent domestic violence. The club subsequently donated $1,000 to the Victims Resource Center and has vowed to continue to help victims of domestic violence.

His talk to the Lions Club is just one example of the impact Renninger and his family have had on the community. Renninger and his wife, Theresa, were recognized by the Victims Resource Center with its Lifetime Friend Award for their work.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, the Renninger family will hold the seventh annual Concert for Rebecca at King’s Pizza, Mountain Top. The goal, like all the family’s efforts, is to raise awareness of domestic violence, and to raise funds for the Victims Resource Center and the Domestic Violence Service Center. Admission is free. Through the generosity of individuals and businesses throughout the community, a basket raffle will be held.

The executive directors of the Domestic Violence Service Center and the Victims Resource Center described to me the importance of this annual concert which attracts hundreds to King’s Pizza.

“The Concert for Rebecca is an opportunity to provide education on domestic violence and the resources available for victims like Rebecca,” said Paula Triano, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center. “It is also an opportunity to recognize the importance of local support to sustain community resources like Domestic Violence Service Center,” she added. The center, headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, provides services to victims of domestic violence in Luzerne and Carbon counties. It operates a shelter in Wilkes-Barre.

“The task of removing the social stigma of domestic violence, moving it out from behind closed doors, and getting society to speak about it is daunting,” she related. Triano pointed out that violence in the home is a crime which has a devastating impact on the lives of all family members and on society as a whole. “Our society’s cultural and historical acceptance of family violence contributes to the prevalence and perpetuation of the problem,” she explained. “When violence hits so close to home and impacts a community like Rebecca Renninger’s tragedy, awareness of domestic violence becomes a reality,” she added.

Janet MacKay, executive director of the Victims Resource Center, has attended each of the previous six events and recognizes its important role in reminding the community of the impact of domestic violence. She views this year’s event as particularly important considering events that came to light during the recent presidential election. She expressed concern that progress made over the last several years in preventing violence against women may be set back in our current climate.

“We know that awareness of the problem of sexual assault has been increasing in recent years and efforts to change the culture of acceptance of this form of violence have been promising,” she stated. “With the comments and actions made by President Trump during the presidential campaign it is feared that we have gone backwards by decades and that acceptance of talking about women as sexual objects and touching them without permission is now seen as acceptable and condoned by the leader of the United States,” she offered. She fears that message will give permission to offenders and result in an increase in sexual assault crimes.

She also expressed concern about the future of funding for victim services. “There is uncertainty about the federal government’s support of programs that address sexual assault and domestic violence,” she stated. She pointed out there has been some talk of abolishing the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants which provide money to train law enforcement on response to domestic violence and provides resources to sexual assault victims. “This could have consequences for women who are at risk,” MacKay warned. She pointed out that a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that in the decade-plus after VAWA was enacted, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64 percent.

The Victims Resource Center provides support services to victims of sexual assault and other violence in Luzerne, Wyoming and Carbon counties. The agency offers support services to victims of domestic violence in Wyoming County.

Pat Rushton writes about Mountain Top. Contact him at pat4psu@msn.com.