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Jahlil Clements' story a reminder of the dangers of domestic abuse

Courtesy photo
Chad Miller (left) and Howard Curry of the West Virginia Division of Highways install a sign on Interstate 77 memorializing 11-year-old Jahlil Clements, who ran into traffic to summon help as Ethan Chic-Colbert was beating Jahlil's mother at the side of the highway. Jahlil was hit by a car and died.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jahlil Clements was 11 years old when he ran out into traffic on Interstate 77 to get someone to stop Ethan Chic-Colbert from beating his mom. Instead, Jahlil was hit by a car and died.

Jamie Lee-Hackney, a survivor of domestic violence, wants people to know things like that don't have to happen.

"I understand where that little boy was coming from," she said at a gathering at Charleston's Domestic Violence Counseling Center on Friday.

Two years ago, while Lee-Hackney was being abused and beaten by her second husband, her 12-year-old son would often try to intervene to help. The Sissonville woman is thankful he didn't end up like Jahlil.

On Friday, state Division of Highways workers put up a sign on Interstate 77, not far from where Jahlil Clements was hit while trying to summon help. "Please drive safely -- In memory of Jahlil Clements," the sign reads.

The sign was paid for by the Jahlil Clements Foundation and by the Domestic Violence Counseling Center.

Elizabeth Crawford, director of the center and one of two counselors at the facility, said the center provides outpatient counseling services for female and male domestic violence victims, and also provides counseling for abusers so they can learn how to break the cycle of violence. She said the center counsels about 35 clients a year. They average between 18 months and two years of one-on-one therapy.

Crawford said continuing counseling is the key to breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

"Shelters are important for helping people when they have nowhere else to go," she said, "but after they leave that shelter, they need to follow up with counseling."

Lee-Hackney is proof. She said Friday she kept thinking her abuser would stop or that he'd get help. She came up with excuses or blamed herself for why he hit her. It wasn't until he almost killed her one day that she decided she would have to leave but, even after that, she kept in contact with him.

It was not until the court took Lee-Hackney's children away and gave custody to their biological father that she got professional help. The judge told her she'd have to go through a domestic violence program before she could get her kids back.

At first, she only went to counseling to abide by the court's order. But the more she talked to Crawford, the more she learned about abuse and the more confident she became.

"Elizabeth helped me find myself," she said.

Domestic violence victims lose their own identities, she said. "When you're abused, you become who your abuser wants you to be." Through counseling and support, she regained herself.

"There are ways out [of abusive relationships]," she said. "You just have to have the courage to do it."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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