‘Night Out’ unmasks hidden violence
During the happiest moments of her eldest children's lives, Paulette Kuahulu never looked joyful. Not in pre-prom photos, not in graduation photos. The mother of five has not smiled or laughed in public since a day in 1991, when, during another beating that had been going on since 1986, her ex-partner broke one of her front teeth, leaving a gap in her smile.
Kuahulu will be getting her smile back thanks to Fashionista's Market, which lined up sponsors to provide about $11,000 in goods and makeover services -- from cosmetic dentistry to skin treatments and new wardrobes -- to two survivors of domestic violence.
» Ultimate Girl's Night Out: 6 to 10 p.m. tomorrow
» Place: Ala Moana Hotel
» Tickets: $25 pre-sale, $30 at the door to benefit Chicks with Checks
The "big reveal" takes place tomorrow night during FM's "The Ultimate Girl's Night Out" at the Ala Moana Hotel, when guests will enjoy cocktails and champagne, hair touch-ups by Alterna, makeovers, minimassages and shopping for jewelry and clothing.
The event has been in the works since January, when the public deaths of Jenny Hartsock, Cyrus Belt and Janel Tupuola shocked Honolulu residents into recognizing the level of violence that many families endure in quiet.
While many mourned at makeshift memorials, Emi Hart and Alyssa Fung, the sisters behind FM, were stirred into action. The two are known for staging FM events with a women-centric, charitable element in addition to the fun aspects, but they wanted to bring to the forefront their message of empowering women to fight domestic violence.
"I remember when baby Cyrus died, I cried for an entire week," Fung said. "And when Janel died I told Emi, 'We have to do something to make people more aware that things like this happen and it only takes one time.'
"(Janel's death) really showed how domestic violence can escalate to a point where a woman can get killed out in the open. We hope that by talking about it more women will be willing to step forward and have a voice."
Kuahulu said she had a voice before the beatings started.
"If you had met me just three years ago, I would not be talking as much as I'm talking now. Eighteen years of beatings really shut me down."
She had been an outgoing cheerleader in high school and was just out of school working toward a career in security when she met her partner. All was well for about a year. Then one day, he pushed her into a telephone pole, leaving a bump on her forehead. When her father asked about it, she lied and said they were playing and she fell.
Jenny Seguritan, the event's other makeover subject, said her abuser started with squeezing her arm really tightly and graduated to closed-fist punches.
"He was a smart person, though. He hit me on my head, my back, my legs ... places that did not bruise or show.
"I remember one time I had a cocked 6-foot spear gun pointed at my neck."
ALTHOUGH VICTIMS of abuse usually are too embarrassed to tell others about their dilemmas, it doesn't take people close to them long to recognize the truth. But just as the public often expects beaten women to easily walk away from their abusers, friends and family cannot understand why a woman would remain in such a relationship.
"My friends would say, 'Are you stupid? Do you want to die?' But they don't know how hard it is to make that break," Kuahulu said. "Look at Janel. She was trying to leave. She had another place to live, but he found her because she had to pick up her kid from school.
"That's the kind of thing (my ex-partner) told me: 'You will always have to watch your back.'"
Social services providers say that 75 percent of domestic violence-related homicides occur shortly after the victim leaves the relationship.
Kuahulu considers herself "lucky" that she was finally able to break free, after having tried nine times, when her ex-partner was sent to prison after nearly killing her.
Since then he has married and she is in another relationship, though she said it took her a long time to be able to trust another man. Now, she says, "If you interfere with me or my children, you're out."
Kuahulu is often asked to speak to other women going through similar ordeals. Many endure five years of beatings before seeking help. She avoids lecturing while telling them of agencies able to house and feed families in transition.
She is looking forward to getting her new tooth courtesy of Dr. Russell H. Matsunaga. "Me and my older kids can joke about it now, even stick gum or put something in the space. But they're all happy that I'm getting this work done, especially my second-eldest daughter, because she's never seen me smiling in any picture."