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Friday, March 27, 2015

Jessica Cassick takes time out from the radio waves at 91.3
WBNY to pose for a photo. (HEATHER N. GRIMMER / ENP
When 25-year-old Jessica Cassick was 18, a house fire turned her life upside down. It led her into a bad relationship.

"I ran into the arms of a guy that I didn't necessarily like at the time, but he kind of grew on me," she explained. "At some point, he hits me in the face and tried to take my car."

Cassick made the decision to end that relationship — a decision that seems obvious to most but isn't as easy for some. "That caused me to rebound on somebody who I thought to be a gentleman but he turned out not to be," she said. He turned out to be "way more violent and way more sadistic."

In short, tragedy put her in a position to accept continually worse situations. Bad turned into the norm. Things many people would never accept, she didn't think twice about. 

"When I was a victim, because he wasn't leaving actual bruising that people could see ... I didn't think it was enough (to be considered domestic violence)," Cassick said.

Then she had a son. And her life flipped upside down again. "It wasn't until I had a child and my child became in harm's way that I kind of stepped up. The second I had my son, I was a completely different person."

Cassick made the decision to get out for the protection of herself and her son. She said that she went to a safe house, while her abuser went to jail. 

Over time, she learned to find herself and focus on herself. And then she switched gears again, focusing on helping others.

Now the public affairs director at 91.3 FM WBNY, the radio station at Buffalo State, Cassick is attempting to use her own experience as a catalyst to help other victims of domestic violence break their cycle of diminished expectations and worsening situations.

Beginning at 10 p.m. Sunday, the radio station has focused its efforts on the issue of domestic violence. DJs have offered to work 24-hour marathon shifts, while conducting hourly interviews with people connected with the issue: victims, assistants, politicians, law enforcement, etc.

"There are so many people out there that are there to help victims, but we do not know they are there," Cassick said.

By bringing the issue front and center, she hopes it helps to erase some of the stigma associated with domestic violence.

"People do not want to talk about domestic violence," she said. "We as people, do not want to know who is, was, and will be a victim. We want to turn our blind eyes and pretend it's not happening, but I can tell you right now that if we are pretending it is not happening, and victims are pretending it is not happening, won't this mean the victim rates will rise. Why don't we want to talk about it? Why are we so scared of what is real? This issue is staring us in the face and we are waving it away and hoping it doesn't happen to us. This kind of ignorance is taking lives."

"There is a stigma associated with domestic violence that is so upsetting as a survivor of it that I can do nothing but exactly what I am doing," she continued. "I want people to hear about it. I want people to learn about domestic violence. Many victims feel so alone, and I am here to say "you are not alone."

Cassick has had a lot of helping in telling victims that they're not alone. Over the course of the week, Cassick will have introduced victims to nearly 40 different people who want to help them break free from their cycle of abuse — or learn how to heal from prior abuse.

The interviews continue at 10 a.m. with Michael Weiner from United Way. Also on tap today are a domestic violence lawyer, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and domestic violence survivors.

"The interviews alone are identifying so many people that are there to help," she said. "Three years ago I thought I was alone, and I was ashamed, and embarrassed. I didn't know where to go, or who to talk to because the only people I had ever talked to was my family, and the local police department."

And while marathon radio sessions and 40 radio guest throughout the course of a week might sound like a major undertaking, for Cassick, it serves as merely an introduction to a much larger project, which she calls "Vanity Violence," a soon-to-be non-profit organization designed to empower victims through the arts.

"Vanity Violence is my way of eliminating the stigma associated with domestic violence," she said. "I bring information, entertainment, and activism together to create a series of different projects that will have people excited to learn about domestic violence."

She said the program will be "inspirational, proactive, and positive to its core." Plans include programs for middle and high school students and an annual production that is set to launch for this year in October.

"I'm also hoping to create a documentary coming up sometime at the end of the year," she said.

Asked to explain the peculiar name for her group, she said, "There is a pride so prevalent in most abusers that drives me crazy. This is where Vanity Violence adopted its tagline, 'There is no vanity in violence.' We must stop the tolerance of Domestic Violence."


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