Never touch a woman, not even with a rose petal.
“I can’t un-do what happened to Maggie, but I can decide what I’m going to do with my life. The same is true of everyone who takes my courses.”
Who: Susan Omilian
What: Works with abused women who want to thrive.
“My goal is to open a massage parlour in Ireland,” says a dark-haired woman. “I’ve finished my training. I’m very proud of myself for that.”
Susan Omilian explains:
“Many abused women can’t stand being touched. We need masseurs who have experience of abuse and know what it means.”
A young woman raises her hand:
“My goal is to spend next Christmas with my three children. The authorities have threatened to take my children away, because I won’t leave my husband, who’s violent.”
A tall African-American woman describes proudly how she went to New York and saw her favourite stand-up comedian. “My dream is to be a comic and perform on stage. Now I’ve taken the first step, by getting up off the TV couch.”
Everyone smiles encouragingly.
My goal is to spend next Christmas with my three children.
Susan Omilian asks for volunteers to knit woolly hats in memory of her brother’s daughter Maggie. Maggie Wardle was shot and killed by her jealous ex-boyfriend on their college campus in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the hats are sold to raise money for her parents’ work against violence.
It was Maggie’s death that prompted Susan, then aged 50, to start her ‘Thriver’ project.
“I had been working with women’s issues all my life. I co-founded of one of the first sexual abuse centres for women at the beginning of the 1970s. As a lawyer, I dealt with custody disputes and cases involving children’s rights, and later with legislation. But then my husband left me and I had to give up my job. Everything went black.”
Then Maggie was murdered, without anyone having had any idea that she was in danger.
In the midst of the shock, everything fell into place for Susan Omilian.
“Suddenly my life had a purpose. Everything I had done in the past could be put to good use.”
Suddenly my life had a purpose. Everything I had done in the past could be put to good use.
She started holding courses for survivors, or ‘thrivers’. The potluck meal is a part of one such course.
“Many of the women who come here are stuck in the role of victim. Some have been the victims of abuse all their lives, and never known what they want for themselves, or else they forgot a long time ago. Here they can feel safe, and thrive.”
Susan has written a book for survivors, “The Thriver Workbook”, and she takes part in radio programmes and debates. She also treats male abusers.
“I can’t un-do what happened to Maggie, but I can decide what to do with my life. The same is true of everyone who takes my courses.”
Maternal deaths: 16 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.06
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion. Some states have regulations making certain information to pregnant women mandatory, including the size and appearance of the foetus.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: one woman in six has been subjected to sexual violence.