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Will County residents take back the night

Alicia Guerrero, of Romeoville, knows the pain it feels to lose a child to violence.

So, when the time came to recognize lives lost as part of Will County Take Back the Night and its 20th anniversary vigil and march against violence, she said she needed to be there.

“I came out for my daughter,” she said. “Her and I were attacked in 2014 by someone she met on Facebook. He was a guy and he became obsessed with her, and then he came to my home and shot us. She was killed, but I survived. I’m here for her.”

Will County Take Back the Night held its 20th annual vigil and march against domestic violence last weekend at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Joliet.

Stacey Dillard, co-chairperson for Will County Take Back the Night, said the organization’s efforts are geared toward making a difference in the lives of others.

She said their goal is “to bring awareness and hopefully that we don’t have to add a new name to the list of women who lost their lives to violence.”

Karli Johnson, the event’s keynote speaker, described one evening that occurred seven years ago during her junior of college where she went walking on campus by herself at 3 a.m. Johnson said that wasn’t the night of her rape as many might assume, but it’s a very telling account that depicts the emotions she experienced in the aftermath of that terrible event.

Noting that she did what every adult told her as child not to do, Johnson said she did what every adult, every college, every pamphlet, every flier tells every female what not to do to avoid sexual assault.

“It was three months after I was sexually assaulted in my own home by my roommate at Northern Illinois University,” she said. “I will never forget this certain night, just like I will never forget the night of my assault. That night, I was sick of the insomnia, I was sick of feeling uncomfortable, unsafe and fear in my own home.”

That night, Johnson knew she could never live in her home any longer.

Johnson said she remembers walking past the commons on campus, sitting on the stairs and laying back in the grass.

“I looked up in the sky,” she said. “I remember searching so hard, just to see the stars. I wished I was dead. I wanted to be in those stars. I wanted to be far, far away from this place.”

Johnson said the pain that she felt is no longer consuming her to the extent it had initially.

“Today, I’m an educator, I’m a speaker, I’m an activist, I’m a storyteller and above all else, I’m a survivor,” she said. “I’ve shared my stories from L.A. to New York City, from Portland to Austin, from Vegas to Chicago and back and our small town communities.”

Guerrero said she believes the messages of the keynote speaker to be true, and is relieved to know that her pain will eventually subside, as did Johnson’s.

“Oh, it was perfect,” she said. “I mean it really helped me to feel that I’m going to be OK one day.”

Guerrero said recognizing domestic violence awareness month means a lot to her.

“It means everything to me not only because of my daughter but because of myself as well,” she said. “It shows me that I’m not the only one, and there are so many other people that are being hurt everyday. Hopefully, one day it will all stop.”

Dillard said the turnout for Will County Take Back the Night has increased in size year after year, and is playing a significant role in brining visibility to matters concerning domestic abuse within the county.

“(I) can’t say a number, but you see in just the number of people—the sheer number of people that attend the walk—each year, we have to get a bigger venue,” she said.

On average, Will County Take Back the Night raises between $7,000 and $8,000 each year.

Dillard said more money was raised as part of the organization’s 20th annual event than in years past. Those funds will be divided between five organizations that help aid victims of domestic violence, in addition to a scholarship program.

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