R. Kelly's ex-wife to speak at domestic violence awareness event in RI

    Drea Kelly, an advocate of domestic violence awareness and survival, is set to speak at a luncheon in Warwick on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, a non-profit organization in Warwick that has been helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault since 1979. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center)

    A woman who said she has overcome years of mental, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, R&B singer R. Kelly, is coming to Rhode Island.

    Drea Kelly, an advocate of domestic violence awareness and survival, is set to speak at a luncheon on March 20 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, a non-profit organization in Warwick that has been helping women and children impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault since 1979.

    “I AM No longer afraid. No longer willing to silence my PAIN AND SUGARCOAT THE ABUSE I ENDURED because of how my abuser and his LEGAL TEAM were THREATENING to come against me if I ‘didn’t choose wisely,’” Drea, an award-winning choreographer, dancer and creative director, who is widely known from Lifetime’s "Surviving R. Kelly,” and VH1's "Hollywood Exes,” wrote on a recent Instagram post. “NO MORE!”

    Judith Earle is the executive director of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center. She said she is confident Drea will provide a “powerful” and “articulate” presentation that will inspire more women to seek help.

    “I think everyone is going to come away with a perspective they’ve never had before,” said Earle. “Domestic violence is a killer of women. The CDC recognizes that abuse is life-threatening.”

    Earle also said she hopes the event will remind people that the Center is available if they need assistance.

    “Hopefully, everyone will go away realizing this experience gave them more information about their local agency that can do so much to help people. We want Drea to bring more people to us and we think that will happen,” Earle said. “We’re hopeful more people will become familiar with us, the issue, and feeling that people can get through this. It does not have to be a life sentence.”

    Saving Lives

    Lisa, of Cranston, told NBC 10 News she doubts she would be alive without the staff at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center. They helped her escape the father of her children, who repeatedly beat and stalked her for years.

    He also broke into her home one night and raped her.

    “If I didn’t have the support of that place, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Lisa said. “That’s how crucial it was. I thought about taking my own life numerous times.”

    Lisa is one of the many women the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center has helped with their path to freedom from abuse. Earle said the Center works with 3,000 women per year on average.

    Counseling Services

    Lisa said the counselors at the center provided “complete support” to her and her children. She also said the counselor she met with always gave her ample time to talk and never rushed through their one-on-one sessions.

    “You sit down for counseling and not only is the person sympathetic, they aren’t looking at a clock,” Lisa said. “I stayed until I felt better. There was no pressure to go.”

    In addition to one-on-one counseling, the agency offers support groups, shelter and transitional housing, a crisis hotline, and advocacy in court, all at no charge.

    “Thank God that I had gone to EBC,” Lisa said. “I had these people to fall back on.”

    While Lisa and her abuser shared a home, they eventually separated and lived on her own with her children. Still, she said her abuser didn’t stop after they finalized a divorce, as he began stalking her and her children.

    “We lived a nightmare of him torturing us constantly. Everywhere I turned, he was there. I’d turn around and he’d be there, at the shop, at the store. It was horrible,” Lisa said. “I’m getting the kids ready for school at seven in the morning and he’s kicking in the door. You think that once you leave, you’re good. But unfortunately, that’s when it ramps up and that’s when it begins because they realize that they finally lost control and that’s unbearable for them.”

    With the help of Earle and with her counselor, Lisa met with Rhode Island State Police after her abuser broke into her home and raped her. Authorities asked Lisa if she would be willing to let them record a phone conversation with him and she agreed.

    He pleaded for her forgiveness for attacking and raping her, with police capturing the audio and later arresting him. He was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, with 10 to serve and 15 suspended.

    He ended up serving a little more than seven years and was released about two years ago. But a 25-year no contact order is still in place and he has been paying her child support ever since.

    “For the longest time, I thought I could change him and I wanted to be with the man I had kids with,” she said. “But we were constantly living on the edge. It was insane.”

    Court Advocacy

    Lisa also said the agency helped her through the legal process, with Earle noting that the center manages a domestic violence office at the Kent County Courthouse. There’s a felony case advocate who works with people seeking help.

    “We’re not lawyers, but we can connect them to lawyers and other services,” she said. “We let them know what to expect in the courtroom. We can literally be a physical barrier in the courtroom between the victim and the abuser.”

    Safe, Affordable Housing

    While Lisa didn’t need shelter, Earle said finding safe, affordable housing is the number one priority for most women. It's also the most challenging.

    “People come into our shelter and it’s hard for them to leave because there’s nothing affordable,” Earle said. “So, people stay longer than they should. A shelter is ideal for crisis intervention. It’s not ideal for the long-term and our own resources are limited.”

    But Earle said the non-profit is almost ready to break ground on a seven-unit affordable housing building in Rhode Island.

    “It’s going to be a great resource, but it’s still only seven units,” Earle said. “The biggest challenge that our clients face is finding a better place to live that they can afford. So, they either come to a shelter and they don’t leave when they should because there’s no place to go, or they bounced from place to place, or they never leave the abuse.”

    Now, 40 years after launching the first “safe house” for abused women and their families in Kent County, the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center is ready to celebrate everything they’ve accomplished.

    Earle is grateful Drea will be in Rhode Island to help celebrate, as well as raise more awareness about the issue and how the agency can help more women heal.

    “Drea tells a story from a perspective that we don’t see a lot of and that is someone who seemingly has everything but doesn’t and what it takes to give up so much for the sake of your own health and your children,” Earle said. “There will be people in the room who will be hearing this as a victim and if she inspires them to think about what they might do to get out of it, no matter how hard it is to get out, that it’s worth it, that might be an inspiration for them.”

    Lisa agreed and hopes she also helps others by sharing her own story.

    “It doesn’t make me angry -- not anymore,” she said. “To sit there and feel sorry for yourself, you’re not going to get too far. So, I never felt sorry for myself. I carried on. I got help, I went forward and I got better.”

    The event will be held at the Warwick Country Club in Warwick on March 20 at 12 p.m., with registration and networking to begin at 11:30 a.m.

    Tickets, which are $50 each, must be purchased in advance. For more information or to make a reservation, click here or call 401-738-9700.

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