Women and children first? For the past few months, many people have been concerned about violent crimes against women in Cleveland and East Cleveland neighborhoods. The severity of the crimes and the media attention this spring and summer were overwhelming and scary. They highlighted the fact that many other women and children are trapped in abusive situations and need help. What can we do?
The Federation of Network Ministries founded by Glenville Pastor Andrew Clark Sr., of Trinity Outreach Ministries Church of God in Christ, is proposing a way for neighbors, churches and other organizations to band together to address this situation. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month, the federation will announce a seven-point initiative to prevent such trafficking and rescue those trapped in it. The federation plans to introduce a curriculum to develop peer rescue teams and train faith-based organizations to be “beacons of hope” for abused children to turn to, Clark said. The federation will also promote the hotline of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center — 1-888-373-7888.
I also talked with Laura Cowan, a local woman who was held captive for several years in California, about her experience. She and her three children now live in Cleveland. She is an activist who speaks out against violence against women.
Ingram: How did you meet your captor?
Cowan: (He was one of my husband’s friends and I went to him for help after my husband went to jail.) He moved us all to the country in a rural area. The kids were homeschooled. His wife and children lived in the main house. I lived in a part of a three-car garage.
Ingram: Is this when the abuse started?
Cowan: Yes, once he got us away from everyone, he abused all of the children. He withheld food from them, turned them against each other and beat them on their feet. They were wasting away.
Ingram: He withheld food? Was there food to eat?
Cowan: Yes, there was food to eat. He received food stamps for his children and a welfare check. He took my food stamps and welfare check and he himself received a military pension.
Ingram: Did he have a gun?
Cowan: Yes, he had many guns, a pistol, a shotgun and daggers and swords. I attacked him once and as I fell, he sliced at my foot. Blood was everywhere.
Ingram: What was the worst thing you saw him do?
Cowan: I got pregnant by him and he took by daughter into the house and gave her to his first wife to raise.
Ingram: How did you escape?
Cowan: For two months every chance I got, I wrote a letter from any paper I could find. I hid it in my clothes. My food stamps came certified in the mail and he could not sign for them so he had to take me into town to the post office. In line, he began a conversation with someone he knew there. I quickly reached in my cloths and gave the post lady the letter … As we walked out, I looked at the post lady. She looked at me and nodded. I prayed that she would not just throw the letter away. The next day the place was surrounded by sheriffs. They rescued us and I told them about my daughter being in the house. They gave her to me. She was eight months old and screaming because she didn’t know me from jack, but I held her and I had her back.
Ingram: How does it feel being a hero?
Cowan: I’m not a hero. I knew I had to do something to get my children free. He received seven consecutive life sentence terms. Many of the children were malnourished and dehydrated. All of them had post-traumatic stress disorder and were in therapy for years, but now my son is in college, my daughter just graduated from high school and my other daughter is a freshman in high school. They are all well-adjusted and successful. I stay busy. I will never have another relationship. I don’t have time and I am not interested. I have so much work to do.
~ Article written by Lori Ingram, an actress living in University Circle.