An expressive piece of art by Panko’s daughter, sums up the pain of domestic violence. It says, “I do not like Dora.”

Domestic violence victim: I will never stop fighting for them

By Xufei Geng

The first thing a visitor to John Panko’s Evanston home might notice are two drawings his daughter did for him when she was four years old. Although 10 years have passed since his daughter produced those drawings, Panko says he still remember every detail about them.

“This is me, that is her. That is for dad. Love Jacy,” Panko said, explained the motivation behind the drawings. “She was just learning how to write, so her J was backwards.”

Panko, 63, a survivor of domestic violence, has lost the right to be with his daughter and son as a father, and his life has changed dramatically.

Panko met his ex-girlfriend in 2002. Like all lovers,they fell in love and very quickly had their first baby. Panko decided to become a stay-at-home dad to take care of his daughter, but not long after that decision, Panko’s partner began verbally abusing him. Their relationship was only a month old.

“From the beginning, she was abusive,” Panko said, “but as time grew on, it became more frequent, and then it became more than just verbal. As time went by, she became more frequent and more violent.”

Panko said his partner would attack him over the slightest provocation. But he never thought about hitting her back. Putting his arms up as a shield was his only defense. “I am not a violent person,” Panko said. “I don’t think anything has ever been solved by violence.” But that abusive relationship lasted almost seven years, until Panko decided in 2013 to stand up and start advocating for the victims of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence doesn’t have a gender,” Panko said, “doesn’t have a color, doesn’t have a religion, [it can be] from any background, poor or rich. Anyone can be a victim. I would try personally to share my story to bring attention to the fact that men do suffer domestic violence. Also, I am terrified that my children are going to grow up thinking that her behavior is acceptable, and they will continue the cycle of abuse.”

John Panko spent years in an abusive relationship. Panko points to a drawing by her daughter at his house in Evanston.
John Panko spent years in an abusive relationship. Panko points to a drawing by his daughter at his house in Evanston. (Xufei Geng/MEDILL)

Between Friends is an organization that has worked with domestic violence victims for 30 years by offering counseling and support services to domestic violence victims. Panko credits the organization for helping break the cycle of domestic violence.

“I think the number of men affected by domestic violence is probably under reported,” said Molly Pim, the institutional giving manager for Between Friends. “There are a lot reasons that [men] don’t report or don’t necessarily recognize violence as violence in their relationships. Generally, when we think about domestic violence, our first thought is that women are the survivors. But we know that it is not always the case.”

Domestic violence is not gender-specific, and that sometimes leaves people at a loss to know how to help the victims. Ryanne Mullin has a female friend who is in an unhealthy abusive relationship. “It’s so hard because I feel like the more you try to help, the further they get from you. It’s so complicated,” Mullin said.

Rebecca Darr, CEO of the non-profit organization WINGS, says they provide housing and various services to the domestic violence victims. “If someone has a friend or someone knows someone who is going through this, the first thing is, do not judge them. And the second thing is, do not tell them to just leave, because it’s not that simple,” Darr said. “What they can do is to give the victims the number of the hotline and let them call when they think it’s the right time.”

Panko also has some wise advice for anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence: “Never give up hope. You can heal eventually. In twenty years, my son could be going through the exact same thing. I am not gonna let that happen to my son.”

Photo at top: An expressive piece of art by Panko’s daughter, sums up the pain of domestic violence. It says, “I do not like Dora.” (Xufei Geng/MEDILL)