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In Trouble, A Story of Domestic Violence

Jesse grabbed Alisha by the throat and started choking her. She struggled, and finally got away, but when she woke up the next morning and saw the finger marks around her neck, she knew she was in trouble.

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Alisha cradled her infant daughter in her arms, while trying to hold the door shut against Jesse’s angry attempts to break through it.

“If I allow my daughter to grow up in this home, this is all she’s ever going to expect from a man,” she thought.

Alisha was a typical high schooler. She loved hanging out with her friends, was involved in sports at Pueblo West High School, and though she dated a little, she never really got serious with anyone.  But when she turned 18, everything changed.

“I found myself wanting a relationship, mostly because my friends had had long-term boyfriends,” she said.

She met Josh, who she dated until she turned 22. The relationship had its rocky moments, most notably when he got another girl pregnant at the beginning of the relationship. Alisha began to desire a more mature relationship than Josh was providing her with, and that’s when she met Jesse.

“He was a sweet talker, very attractive. He told me everything that I wanted to hear from a man,” Alisha said.

“I finally realized that whether or not he was going to change was up to him, not up to me.”

She ended her relationship with Josh, and immediately started dating Jesse. She knew she should have let herself be alone for a while to heal from her breakup, but ignored the inner warning because she was afraid of being alone.

The relationship moved quickly, and Alisha moved in with Jesse after only three months of dating. Her second thoughts about moving in caused her to leave him several times, but she always ended up coming back.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, this is a pretty common start for many abusive relationships. They seem too good to be true, then move too fast.

“Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows,” the site said.

Although emotional abuse had been occurring on some level for a while already, the first time the physical abuse happened, it took Alisha off guard.

The two of them had been drinking, and got into an argument, so Alisha went outside to escape from it. But when she tried to come back in, she found the door locked. She banged on the door and tried to get back inside for about an hour. It was snowing, and she was cold and angry when he finally let her back in the house. She started yelling at him when something happened that had never happened before.

“He just flipped,” she said.

Jesse grabbed her by the throat and started choking her. She struggled, and finally got away, but when she woke up the next morning and saw the finger marks around her neck, she knew she was in trouble. She was even more disturbed when Jesse hid her phone from her for an entire day so she wouldn’t tell her family about the incident.

Controlling whom a person talks to is another common warning sign of a domestic abuser, according to the NDVH’s list of domestic violence warning signs. They often don’t want the person being abused to see or talk to their family and friends, because the more isolated they are, the less likely they are to leave the person abusing them.

But the manipulation and control often used by abusers like Jesse can make it difficult for the victim to clearly see warning signs and act on them, as was the case for Alisha.

She moved in with some family for about a week to get away from Jesse, but when he called to say he was sorry and would never do it again, she went back to him. About a month later, he proposed. She accepted.

Not long after the proposal, Jesse was stationed in New Jersey through the military, and Alisha moved with him, furthering her isolation from her family.

“My whole family was saying, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ but I believed that I could change him; things would get better,” Alisha said.

But things were far from better after the move.

One day, Alisha could hear him outside, hitting the dog because it had peed inside.

“Of course, being the animal lover that I am, I went outside to stop him,” she said.

But when she confronted him, he “flipped” again. Alisha ran to the bathroom, but he got in, pinned her on the floor, and began hitting her across the face repeatedly.

The next morning  she woke up to a nasty black eye and other injuries on her face. He apologized, once again promised it wouldn’t happen ever again, and then offered to take her out to a movie, which she agreed too.

“I can’t even begin to explain a battered woman’s mind,” she said. “He’s a manipulative person, and I fell for the manipulation every time.”

On the way into the movie theater, Jesse made a joke about her black eye. Alisha was 1,700 miles away from her family and friends, and didn’t want to go back and prove that they had been right about her moving to New Jersey with Jesse.

When Alisha discovered she was pregnant, she felt trapped. Thankfully, there was no physical abuse during the pregnancy, but the emotional abuse, cheating and manipulation went on and on.

Her daughter’s birth was ultimately what helped Alisha find the courage to leave Jesse.

“My courage got stronger and stronger because of my daughter,” she said.

The last night that Jess physically abused her, he broke through a locked door to get to her and began choking her. Alisha was scared for her life, and faked passing out in order to get him to stop.

For the first time, she called the police. They arrived within minutes, and put Jesse in the barracks for 72 hours. Because Alisha chose not to press charges, he was allowed to come back home after that amount of time.

“Looking back, I wish I had pressed charges,” she said.

She ended up moving back to Colorado, where being surrounded by family and friends helped her break free of her battered mentality.

“I finally realized that whether or not he was going to change was up to him, not up to me.”

Alisha is now living in Colorado Springs with her daughter, and wants to reach out to other women who are going through struggled similar to what she experienced. She’s thinking about volunteering at a crisis shelter that helps domestic abuse victims, and wants to tell her story to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

There are many choices that Alisha wishes she had made differently, but hopes her experience can help teach other women to recognize danger signs before the situation escalates and becomes dangerous.

Women need to use the resources available to them, she said. Although she never received professional counseling after her ordeal, she would encourage other women to seek out local shelters and services for domestic abuse victims.

“Most of the women have been in that same situation, so it’s a great resource to go in there and just pour your heart out,” she said. “Or, just go to someone you trust the most and tell them everything, because that’s a form of counseling too.”

Such services in Pueblo are available through ACOVA, YWCA and Teresa’s Place. The Pueblo Domestic Violence Community Taskforce is in the process of forming the Domestic Violence Fatality Review team, which will help identify gaps in services available to domestic violence victims in Pueblo.

The team should be chosen and complete a mock training sometime in January or February, and would then meet at times that have not been determined yet, to discuss closed domestic violence cases that have resulted in fatalities.

The purpose of the team will be to review the cases, and see what gaps in services could be fixed.

“Pueblo itself does not have a lot of domestic violence fatalities, but the team would look at how we could prevent fatalities. What are we doing in Pueblo that is done well, and where are there gaps in the coordinated community response?” said Debra Wingfield, who originally brought the idea of the review team to the PDVCT after attending a national conference on the subject.

If the team finds gaps in domestic violence services, or finds a need for a completely new service, they will do their best to figure out how to realistically provide that service in Pueblo, whether that would be through the creation of a new agency, or whether an existing agency could provide the needed service, in order to prevent as many domestic violence incidents and fatalities as possible.

The Pueblo Police Department reported over 1,600 domestic violence related case numbers for 2013 alone, and made 832 domestic violence related arrests in the same year.

One of the most important points that Alisha wanted to stress to women was that they surround themselves with people who care about them, and knew them before that situation. Those are the kind of people who will notice things like emotional abuse, not just bruises on the face.

“A lot of people perceive it (domestic violence) as being punched in the face,” she said. “But even if a woman does not have marks on her body that you can see, a lot of times, there is emotional abuse or something else going on. It doesn’t have to be life threatening to be abuse.”

Editor’s Note: The names in this story were altered to protect the identity of Alisha and her daughter.

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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20 cities primed on the Amazon wishlist to be its next HQ

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s second home could be in an already tech-heavy city, such as Boston, New York or Austin, Texas. Or it could be in the Midwest, say, Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Or the company could go outside the U.S. altogether and set up shop in Toronto.

Those six locations, as well as 14 others, made it onto Amazon’s not-so-short shortlist Thursday of places under consideration for the online retailing giant’s second headquarters.

The 20 picks, narrowed down from 238 proposals, are concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest and include several of the biggest metro areas in the country, such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city on the list.

The Seattle-based company set off fierce competition last fall when it announced that it was looking for a second home, promising 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Many cities drew up elaborate presentations that included rich financial incentives.

The list of finalists highlights a key challenge facing the U.S. economy: Jobs and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few large metro areas, mostly on the East and West Coasts and a few places in between, such as Texas.

Nearly all the cities on Amazon’s list already have growing economies, low unemployment and highly educated populations.

“Amazon has picked a bunch of winners,” said Richard Florida, an economic development expert and professor at the University of Toronto who helped develop that city’s bid. “It really reflects winner-take-all urbanism.”

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where the mayor said the city gave it its “best shot.” San Diego also failed to advance.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

Besides Austin, another Texas city made the cut: Dallas. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their locations, with Philadelphia’s mayor noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in and around Pittsburgh citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

Other contenders among the 20 include Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s a long list for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or other incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location on the list, increasing the competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it will “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some gimmicks didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, and nearly all of those on the shortlist have a metro population of at least double that.

Amazon also wanted to be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before leaving office Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark is also proposing $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications. Toronto’s mayor said Thursday that the city offered no financial incentives to woo Amazon.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said.

The extra space will give the rapidly growing company room to spread out. It had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of the Whole Foods grocery chain and its 89,000 employees.

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Associated Press writers Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Rugaber contributed from Washington.

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Tourism still booms in Cuba but Trump’s tougher stance hurting private entrepreneurs

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HAVANA (AP) — On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy of U.S. tourism dollars and ratchet up pressure for regime change.

That doesn’t appear to be happening. Travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the U.S. And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private business people themselves.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy. The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the boom — an 18 percent increase over 2016 — owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.

“There was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement. They were everywhere!” said Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home for about $30 a night. “Since then, it’s fallen off.”

The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy — encouraging change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system. For more than 50 years, Washington sought to strangle nearly all trade with the island in hopes of spurring economic collapse. Obama changed that policy to one of promoting engagement as a way of strengthening a Cuban private sector that could grow into a middle class empowered to demand reform.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

While the U.S. prohibits tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties. Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

“Tourism has grown in Cuba, with the exception of American tourism,” said Nelson Lopez, a private tour guide. “But I’m sure that sometime soon they’ll be back.”

While Trump’s new rules didn’t take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Cuban officials say the freeze was needed to control tax evasion, purchase of stolen state goods and other illegality in the private sector, but it’s had the effect of further restricting private-sector activity in the wake of Trump’s policy change.

Cuban state tourism officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. Jose Luis Perello, a tourism expert at the University of Havana, said more than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 the previous year. Even as entrepreneurs see fewer American clients, many of those cruise passengers are coming from the United States, he said.

Yunaika Estanque, who runs a three-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Havana, says she has been able to weather a sharp drop in American guests because a British tour agency still sends her clients, but things still aren’t good.

“Without a doubt our best year was 2016, before the Trump presidency,” she said. “I’ve been talking with other bed-and-breakfast owners and they’re in bad shape.”

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