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Abuse victim turns tragedy to triumph
Abuse victim turns tragedy to triumph
By SUE HOFFMAN
She remembered how she blushed when he looked at her and how wonderful their relationship was at first.
"He was respectful, charming and a gentleman," Johanna Orozco told juniors and seniors at Kenston High School last week. "He was good looking too." She loved his long, curly eyelashes. "That made me melt. He was gorgeous," she said.
"You think you're in love," she said. "Every time you wake up in the morning you think of him, and all you can do is smile. I had that teenage love, that teenage dream."
When Ms. Orozco told her story of teenage love and tragedy, the students were silent and still. She spoke their language. She showed them photos of herself as a confident teen and talked about their dates to movies and restaurants. Then she told them how her relationship with Juan Ruiz deteriorated and became abusive, ending tragically.
Her former boyfriend is serving a 27-year prison sentence after being convicted of raping and stalking her and shooting her with a shotgun in her face in Cleveland on March 5, 2007.
Ms. Orozco, now 22, has recovered from years of surgeries. She shares her story as a way of educating teens about how unhealthy relationships develop and spiral downward.
"Don't let it get to that point. Get help," she said. She also cautioned them that "jealousy is not love."
"Her story provides a positive message out of tragedy and one our students can absolutely benefit from," Kenston High School Principal Nancy Santilli said following her presentation.
Ms. Orozco's daytime student presentation and evening presentation to some 300 parents and family members were provided by the high school PTO, Operation Keepsake Inc. and Peaceful Environment at Kenston.
As part of the evening program, drama club students Shannon Shaver and CeCe Coming, both seniors, and Josh Weemhoff, a junior, under the direction of teacher Steve Hoffman, performed a skit about abusive relationships. The program also included information tables with community organizations immediately following the presentation.
As a guest speaker for Operation Keepsake Inc., Ms. Orozco has shared with school audiences her trauma, as well as her triumph over her experience. Operation Keepsake, headquartered in Twinsburg, aims to challenge young people to develop healthy relationships and strong character.
Ms. Orozco also serves as a teen educator at the Domestic Violence Center of Cleveland and has been on national news programs, including "Oprah" and "20/20."
She advocated for two bills that were passed by the Ohio Legislature last year. Ohio House Bill 10, called Shynerra's Law, after a young woman who was stalked and killed by a former boyfriend, allows juvenile court judges to issue protection orders for teenagers who are in abusive relationships with other juveniles. House Bill 19, called the Tina Croucher Act, requires school districts to adopt a dating-abuse policy and provide education on dating violence in health-education classes.
Ms. Orozco gave students details on how her relationship with her boyfriend deteriorated. A few months into the relationship, he became jealous, she said. "I thought it was kind of cute," she said. "It was his way of showing he cared about me."
Then he became "controlling and possessive," telling her what to wear and not wear and how to wear her hair, she said. "He told me who I could talk to and who I couldn't talk to," which meant she couldn't talk to male friends, she said. He accused her of cheating. "Then he started putting me down all the time," Ms. Orozco said.
"At first I could brush those words off real quick," she said, but after awhile, her self-confidence was affected.
"Every time I went out with family and friends, she said, he called her every few minutes. He asked whom she was talking to and why she hadn't called him, she said. He made her feel guilty about going out with female friends, she said. "I would call my girls and cancel on them."
The relationship became physically abusive, she said. He pulled her hair, slapped and punched her, she said. "You name it, he did it all." She tried to hide the bruises, Ms. Orozco said. "I put up with that for two years." Then she told herself, "I'm done," she said. She called him to break up with him, and he threatened her, she said.
After the rape, her former boyfriend was on house arrest. She told students she tried to get a protection order but could not. Two weeks later, he shot her as she was getting into her car to go to cosmetology school.
Ms. Orozco's first surgery, which lasted 13 hours, involved using a bone from her leg for a new jaw. She was on a feeding tube for six months, but, with the support of her family and friends, her strength returned. She was named prom queen that spring, and now she's on the road, with confidence returned, to help prevent similar traumas from happening to others.
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