Twenty-eight speakers are slated for this year at the 4th Annual Working Women State Conference at The Straz Performing Arts Center in Tampa on Friday, Sept 9. Leading women speakers from around the country will share their stories during this conference designed to motivate, educate and inspire.
Speaker Melissa Dohme has been sharing her story for more than four years to educate women about domestic violence.
Many people in the Tampa Bay area remember the college student who was stabbed 32 times by her ex-boyfriend just outside her Clearwater home.
He had convinced her to see him one more time, just so he could have closure, and a hug.
That was the night she learned that the time period after leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time.
“That’s when the most horrific things happen,” Melissa said.
The attack left her with facial paralysis and the need for multiple surgeries, traveling to Boston to see specialists and surgeons, including nerve and muscle transplantations to her face, so she can one day smile fully again.
She has had to re-learn how to talk, eat, laugh, even close and open her eyes.
Now she speaks at high schools throughout the region, educating teens about dating violence with the Teen Dating 101 program.
She tells them about warning signs.
“People think it happens to uneducated people, but it does not discriminate – not with education, age or race. It’s manipulation – it’s all about gaining and maintaining control,” said Melissa.
During her recovery, she met another survivor who had gone through the stages of recovery, including the anger portion. She urged Melissa to move forward with forgiveness of her attacker.
“I forgave him in court publicly, and I walked out of the court free. When I walked out of there I knew I won. He did not have a hold over me anymore.”
“I have let all of the bitterness go. It’s amazing. Forgiveness changed my life and enabled me to move forward.”
Another person she met, changed her life as well.
Cameron Hill was one of the first Firefighter-EMT’s to respond after the attack. He set up the landing zone and helped load her into the helicopter that airlifted her to the nearest trauma center. As one of the first responders on scene, he felt moved to follow along with her progress and recovery.
Months later they would see each other again. He asked her out. Incredibly, it turned into love.
Just last May, Melissa was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. After promising to help her work on her pitch, once at Tropicana Field, Cameron knelt and handed her a baseball that said, “Will you marry me?” They will marry next spring.
Melissa has also graduated college and “landed her dream job” at Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay charitable organization.
She continues to educate high school students, as well as adults, and was a keynote speaker in April for an Abuse, Neglect and Dependency Committee and will appear on local television in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Even though there have been dark nights, numerous surgeries, friends lost, and a PTSD diagnosis, she has grown tremendously and helped others with her story.
“Meeting other survivors was what changed me completely.”
She remains positive about her journey and states emphatically, “Every day is a blessing.”
Especially when you’ve “Almost lost your life and know that you’ve been given it back.”
“I tell people, “No matter what happens to you in life, you can move forward.”
She has learned to move forward. She has found forgiveness.
“The attack was only one day in my life. It doesn’t define me.”
You can hear Melissa’s inspiring story during the 4th Annual Working Women Conference at The Straz Performing Arts Center on September 9th. The conference kicks off on Thursday evening with a networking reception. You can register for both days at WorkingWomenConference.com.
Article by Marsha Strickhouser