“If I Am Missing or Dead”

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Knoxville (WVLT) - It's been five years since a Knoxville woman was strangled by her boyfriend and left to die in a vacant lot.

On Friday, strangulation legislation will go before a subcommittee in Nashville to make the act an aggravated assault. It's currently only a misdemeanor.

WVLT Volunteer TV’s Liz Tedone has an update on Amy Latus' family. They have renewed hope for domestic violence victims with a new book.

Janine Latus|AMY'S SISTER

In Knoxville on July 4th 2002, Amy Latus went missing.

“She did not truly share with us, everything we knew, we knew by instinct. I think she believed this would be an okay relationship,” says Marilyn Willenbrink, Amy's mom.

Amy was in an abusive relationship with Ron Ball. But it wasn't until she went missing that police, family and friends actually learned the truth.

In the days after she disappeared, a letter was discovered in Amy's desk drawer here at Kimberley Clark where she worked. It had been written ten weeks before she disappeared and discussed what she had been going through. Amy had been hiding her situation.

The title of that letter written to the Knox County Sheriff's Department read, "If I am missing or dead." Those words are now the title for a book written by her sister Janine. “I took her story and mine, and what it's like to be inside an abusive relationship.”

Latus, a survivor herself of an abusive relationship, has one goal, to get people to understand why women stay.

“Because when you're on the inside of it, it feels okay,” Janine says. “It feels like you asked for it. That he loves you so much and that he just can't help himself.”

Understanding the psychology behind abuse is the first step law enforcement and victims' advocates take to helping a victim.

Since Amy Latus’s murder, the Knoxville Family Justice Center has been created. It's a one-stop shop for victims where they can get all of the resources they need under one roof. This center is one of only 15 in the country.

Janine Latus got out of her abusive situation because she reached out.

“I found out if you ask, then people will help you,” says Latus.

“We need to start by talking about what's good and bad behavior in a relationship, recognize it and be willing to reach out for ourselves,” Latus adds.

Something her sister Amy couldn't do, but Janine is hopeful others will buy the book and pass it on to those victims who need hope.

There's a fund set up in honor of Amy Latus which helps victims nationwide escape their abusive situations. You can find a link to Amy’s Courage Fund, as well as other helpful links on domestic violence below.

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