CLEARWATER — For decades, Carolyn Hennecy said, silence was the golden, tarnished rule.
From age 7 to 15, she silently endured molestation by a relative.
The cycle continued when at age 18 the Lakeland native, who was "looking for love in all the wrong places," married an alcoholic who for the next 17 years would verbally abuse and eventually beat her, as well as their children.
But Hennecy told more than 400 people at a "Faces of Domestic Violence" event at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that she has found her voice — and other victims can, too.
Turning her life into a lesson, the ordained minister published a book called Orange Blossom Wishes, which details her ill-fated former relationship. She frequently speaks to groups across the state about domestic violence. And she has found real love with her husband of five years.
"So there are happy endings," she said. "But there is a need for support. We must support and encourage victims."
Hosted by the Haven of RCS shelter, the luncheon was the Clearwater shelter's 12th highlighting Domestic Violence Awareness month.
The program follows a deadly 2012, in which Pinellas County's Domestic Violence Task Force recorded 13 homicide cases — the highest number the group has logged in the nearly two decades it has collected data. Eighteen people died, because five of the homicide cases were murder-suicides — also an unusually high number in a county that typically sees only one or two of these cases a year.
Haven director Christine Warwick noted that fewer than 10 percent of victims in the 114 homicide cases examined since 1996 had sought contact with a domestic violence center. However, she said, the Haven has been at 95 to 98 percent capacity the last two months.
"That means, I think, that a lot more people are getting out, are hearing about us, which is what we need," she said, adding that the shelter also offers seminars on healthy relationships and dating violence to students. "More shelters won't stop domestic violence. Prevention will."
In fact, shelters and awareness are the only reason survivor Courtney Taylor, 42, of Tampa, is alive.
Taylor said she was 19 when a co-worker who volunteered at a local shelter subtlly shared information that encouraged her to create a safety plan and, after a particularly brutal beating, sneak away one night to a shelter with her children.
She and Hennecy encouraged supporters to volunteer or donate goods or money to the Haven, which broke ground this month on a new building that will house support group space and offices for prevention services employees.
"No matter how much you give," Hennecy said, "you will impact a life and you just may save one."
First-time attendees Sabrina Smith, 51, and Terri Tankel, 55, both of Dunedin, said the luncheon lent an "eye-opening" look at victims' thought processes. It also shed light, they said, on how technology like cellphones can expose teens to abusive behaviors like call monitoring.
Sandy Willoughby, a Mary Kay consultant who often participates in company fundraisers benefiting the Haven, said she was most taken aback Thursday to hear that an American woman is battered every nine seconds.
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"When you put it into that context, it's kind of mind-boggling," said Willoughby, 49, of Land O'Lakes. "I'm hoping today will be a good start for people to wake up and pay attention and be aware."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.