Survivor of domestic violence shares story

By Rachel Kytonen

Penny Peters had just finished packing her suitcase on July 26, 2007, excited about leaving for a vacation to Florida, when she got a phone call from her ex-boyfriend Steven Pawliszko.

Pawliszko said he needed to come over to pick up some of his stuff. He arrived at her Rush City residence, and drove his vehicle through the garage. He then found Peters.

“I felt two punches to my upper right shoulder and the phone fell from my hand,” Peters explained. I turned around to face him and look him in the eye and I was in shock. I then saw something shiny in his hand. He stabbed me repeatedly with a knife with an intent to kill me.”

Peters said she somehow made it past Pawliszko, and reached her neighbor, who called for help. Prior to police arrival, Pawliszko left the residence in his vehicle and a multi-agency manhunt ensued.

Peters was transported, via helicopter, to North Memorial for medical treatment under protective custody since her attacker had gotten away.

“I had eight stab wounds to the body, and have permanent muscle damage for the rest of my life,” Peters said.

Pawliszko was arrested the following day in Cambridge. He was found guilty of first degree attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Peters shared her emotional story of survival during The Refuge Network’s 25th Anniversary Gala held Thursday, Oct. 13 at Stars and Strikes Entertainment Center in Wyoming, Minn.

The Refuge Network serves Chisago, Isanti and Kanabec counties. It is a multi-community organization whose primary purpose is to provide supportive services for people who are currently involved or have been involved in an abusive relationship. The Refuge Network believes that no one deserves to be abused and therefore seeks to bring an end to domestic violence.

Some of the supportive services The Refuge provides includes 24-hour crisis intervention, emergency shelter/safe housing, personal advocacy, legal advocacy, legal aid resources, criminal justice, women support groups, youth services, community education and personal training.

Penny Peters story is just one story from the 22,870 victims of domestic violence The Refuge has helped in the last 25 years. In the last 25 years it has also had over 71,565 follow-up contacts.

Peters explained she and Pawliszko had been dating for over 12 years. Law enforcement were first called to her home on Sept. 2, 2006 after she and an intoxicated Pawliszko got into an argument. The argument was verbal, and no police action was taken. During an interview with Peters, law enforcement learned from Peters that there had been no past physical violence between her and Pawliszko except an incident from 1994.

On Oct. 4, 2006, deputies again responded to her residence for a domestic incident. This time, Peters was provided with information for The Refuge and how to obtain an order for protection.

Deputies again responded her residence on Dec. 6, 2006. Deputies learned that Peters had been assaulted by Pawliszko after being hit in the face. She also had red marks on her neck, and Pawliszko was arrested for assault. Peters requested a call from The Refuge for help, and incident reports were also sent to The Refuge for review.

On May 24, 2007, deputies again arrive at her residence. Peters tells law enforcement she awoke to find Pawliszko standing over her with a knife. She was able to lock herself in the bathroom until police arrival, and Pawliszko was arrested for 2nd degree assault. Earlier in the day, deputies also responded to the residence after Pawliszko began screaming profanities from the garage. Again, The Refuge was contacted and incident reports were forwarded to them for review.

“I began to think the only way out of this relationship was one of us was going to die,” Peters told the crowd. “I couldn’t have survived without the support of The Refuge Network.”

Even after everything Peters has gone through, she feels lucky.

“I’m one of the lucky few — I survived,” Peters said. “I’m sharing my story because I want to help raise awareness of domestic violence.”

The need for The Refuge’s services continues to increase. In 1986, The Refuge had 153 first calls for help, and 204 follow-up contacts. In 1995, it had 966 first calls for help, and 2,909 follow-up contacts. In 2010, The Refuge had 1,549 first calls for help and 6,540 follow-up contacts.

Roxie Karelis, executive director of The Refuge, has been with the organization since 2007.

“I have an awesome board and staff, and I feel fortunate to work with them every day,” Karelis said. “It is only with community partnerships that we are able to do life-saving work. The women, children and men we work with every day face challenges as they move forward with their lives. But we also need help to make sure we have services to provide.”

Margaret Johnson-Barr, founder of The Refuge, explained together with her husband, they started thinking about the need for an organization like The Refuge in 1984.

“I had a home in Cambridge and I was hoping to find an organization which might have need of it,” Johnson-Barr explained. “I wanted the organization to have as their mission statement, ‘to help people in need.’ I read as much as I could on domestic violence. About this time I was joined by Nancy Peterson of Cambridge who was also interested in this subject. Together we learned of the real need in Isanti County for victims of domestic violence to find help.”

Johnson-Barr explained a task force was created, and in 1985 The Refuge was incorporated. In June 1986, the 24-hour crisis hotline opened. She said the name, The Refuge, was taken from the Book of Psalms, Chapter 59.

The Refuge Network opened the Black Dog Hill Shelter in February 2009, the first women and children’s shelter for domestic violence in East Central Minnesota. Since opening, it has been home to 367 women and children.

In Minnesota, over 132,000 women and children are assaulted each year, with many others unreported. Annually, over 4,800 women and 6,000 children are provided emergency shelter in Minnesota.

For more information on The Refuge Network, call 763-689-3532 or visit The 24 Hour Toll Free Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-800-338-SAFE (7233). All services are free and confidential.