From Victim to Advocate: A local woman’s journey back from domestic violence
Last month, a high-profile domestic violence case stemming from a Fall 2015 incident, came to a close. The case garnered statewide attention when details of the perpetrator “water boarding” his victim came to light.
On Sept. 8, 23-year-old Dylan Van Camp was sentenced to seven years probation and 180 days of jail time based on a plea agreement with the prosecution.
In the aftermath of crimes involving domestic violence, victims are left to rebound from their experiences at the hands of their assailants.
Some have support from friends and family, while others are left to do it alone. In either case, victims attempt to rebuild their lives while coping with a range of emotions, from shame to self-blame and other residual effects such as constant fear and despondence.
Despite experiencing all of the above mentioned effects from her experiences at the hands of Van Camp, 26-year-old Sara Lipke, has chosen to come forward to tell her story.
“It’s not easy to do this, but I feel telling my story and what happened to me can help others,” Lipke said last week, as she sat down to discuss not only her experience, but her remarkable recovery since a near fateful November night in 2015.
Now a domestic violence advocate at HAVEN, Lipke hopes to empower those who may be currently involved in a relationship affected by domestic violence, increase awareness and educate the general public of the destructive effects of domestic violence; physically, mentally and emotionally.
As she begins her story, Lipke readily admits her first impression of Van Camp was “magnetic” when the two first met in May of 2015.
“I first met him at my best friend’s house, he was there helping my friend’s boyfriend. We first spoke for five minutes, and to be honest I thought him to be funny and charismatic,” Lipke explains. “He had this sort of magnetic personality. Everybody in the room was drawn to him.”
However Lipke soon learned he had received a six-month jail sentence for Possession of Methamphetamine.
“Even though I knew he was someone I should stay away from, I was the first person he contacted when he got out of jail. He portrayed himself as someone who needed help and made me feel as if I was someone who could help him. Since I met him, he came across as very helpful, always willing to help others. Things kind of progressed from there,
“It was a combination of those things that drew me to him, now that I think back on it,” she adds. “I always knew in the back of my mind… I should keep my distance. But I didn’t.”
By June of 2015 the two had begun to date. It was within a couple weeks before Lipke found herself on the receiving end of Van Camp’s volatile temper.
“We were hanging out one night when he suddenly just grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my back with no warning. Then he just left and went back to his place. It was definitely a red flag and I know now I should have had no more contact with him. But I had been in abusive relationships in the past, most of my relationships had been abusive in some form, so at the time… I guess I just felt that was normal.”
The incident unfortunately would prove to be the first of many.
“The abuse was at it’s worst in the very beginning and at the very end,” she adds.
Shortly after the first incident, was a second which Lipke refers to as “one hellish night” and considers it not only the most severe incident of abuse at the hands of Van Camp, but the worst night of her entire life.
“We were in his car together and he was drinking,” she explains. “Then he handed me the bottle and told me to take a drink. I didn’t want to, and then he hit me in the face with the bottle and told me to take a drink,”
As Lipke accounts, Van Camp then began to drive at a terrifyingly excessive rate of speed, meanwhile striking her numerous times.
It wasn’t until the vehicle malfunctioned when Lipke indicates she was able to escape.
“I ran as fast I could, hoping he wouldn’t find me,”
Van Camp would eventually find Sara later that evening, and the events of earlier in the evening would resume as Van Camp reportedly choked Lipke and used water boarding for the first time.
“The first time he did it, I obviously choked on the water as I tried to breathe. He laughed at me and said “well that’s what happens when you try and breathe,”
The pattern of abusive incidents would soon become more frequent, to the point of occurring a few times a week. The incidents became so prevalent, Lipke admits to just accepting them as part of every day life.
In addition to physical abuse, Lipke cites various instances where Van Camp would make threatening comments to her about her friends and family as well as derogatory comments aimed at her personality and body image.
“Looking back now, it’s like he knew exactly what to say and what to talk about, to hurt me and strike right at my self esteem.”
Van Camp’s behavior eventually included stalking whenever the two weren’t together, according to Lipke.
“Even though I didn’t always know where he was, he always seemed to know where I was and what I was doing. He would tell me things like he had people watching me and if I ever called the police he would have people come find me and my family. It got to the point where I was afraid of anyone I didn’t know.”
Then one night in November of 2015 would prove to be both a night Lipke admits she will never forget and a turning point in her life.
“We were watching a movie together at my apartment and I made a comment about something in the movie. That comment set him off… and I knew then it was going to be bad,” she explains.
According to Lipke, Van Camp struck her and choked her to the point she lost consciousness.
“There is no worse feeling ever than the feeling of being choked until everything goes black. I woke up on the floor to him kicking me in the head and chest, then he poured soda on me and told me to get up on the couch. I was so dizzy and everything was a blur, but I managed to pull myself up. As much pain as I was in and weak, I knew I had to do something. I had to get away. So I texted my sister the words ‘Dylan,’ ‘abusive’ and ‘help.’ Thankfully, she got there pretty quick. He made excuses when she showed up and she got me out of there.”
While Lipke indicates she wanted to report the incident right away to the police, she was genuinely fearful of Van Camp.
After about two weeks however, Lipke went to the Merrill Police Department and filed a complaint.
“They were unable to find him for about two months and I think those two months were almost as scary as the time we had been together. Every time I saw someone I didn’t know, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I thought at any time, he would find me or someone he knew would.”
Then in February of 2016, Van Camp was located and taken into custody.
While one may think Lipke’s ordeal was over, in fact, she says the hardest part was just beginning.
“I was relieved when he was found. But in the days following, was when I realized for the first time how broken of a person I was. I had no self-confidence left at all, I was still very fearful and paranoid of anyone I didn’t know, I was afraid of being home alone and had severe nightmares. But I think the worst feeling of all was feeling ashamed. I felt ashamed for allowing it to happen to me.”
In the months to follow, Lipke set out on her path to recovery and rebuilding. She readily admits counseling played a key role in her recovery as did the support of her family and friends.
“I will never forget Officer Jamie Jaeger of the Merrill Police Department. She was the officer who took the report when I reported what happened. When everything was done, she gave me a hug. That was the first time I had felt safe in a long time. My family and friends were amazing and so was my counselor,” Lipke explains as she cracks a broad grin.
Within approximately six months from Van Camp’s arrest, Lipke credits her support structure for helping her to return to the woman she once was – an overall confident, happy person.
“I remember when I first started going to counseling, I would feel so low and pretty much worthless going to see my counselor. But when we were finished, I remember coming out feeling so happy and having a big smile on my face. She really helped me gain my self-confidence back. The support I had from everyone around me really helped me re-build myself into the person I am today.”
In March of 2016, Lipke decided to pursue a career in helping others who had endured experiences similar to hers; becoming a Domestic Violence shelter advocate at HAVEN of Merrill.
“It’s therapeutic for me to be able to relate to what others have been through and help them the way others helped me.”
Her desire to help others is a key factor in Sara bringing her story to the public. It is her hope for her story to reach those affected by domestic violence and hopefully empower those who have not yet been able to break the cycle.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I had ever done. It’s a very scary thing to overcome your fears of someone,” Sara says of the night she chose to change her own life and break the cycle of abuse.
“I decided I had enough and I knew I was the only person who could put an end to the abuse.
“Many victims may feel they are alone, but I can assure you, you are not! If you are a victim and haven’t found the strength to break the cycle of abuse, I can promise you, you are not alone. There are people in this community that will help you. The officers of the Merrill Police Department and my co-workers at HAVEN are amazing and are always willing to help anyone in need. Breaking the cycle is possible, but it takes strength to make the call.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact the Merrill Police Department at (715) 536-8311, HAVEN at (715) 536-1300 or Lincoln County Crime Stoppers at (715) 536-3726
Dylan R. VanCamp was initially charged on February 17, 2016, facing three Felony counts of Strangulation and Suffocation (with a Previous Conviction), two Felony counts of Bail Jumping, a Felony count of Stalking- Result in Bodily Harm and three counts of Misdemeanor Battery. As a result of a plea agreement on September 8 of this year, he was convicted of a single Felony count of Strangulation and Suffocation (with a Previous Conviction) and both counts of Felony Bail Jumping. He is scheduled to be released in August of 2018, upon serving a total of 2 1/2 years behind bars from a previous conviction His probation will commence immediately.