How many times have you heard someone scoff at a victim’s domestic violence situation and remark that they should “just leave”? How many times have you yourself wondered the same thing? What if I told you that the most dangerous and lethal time in a domestic violence victim’s life is when they are in the process of leaving an abusive partner?
First, let’s back up and define just exactly what domestic violence is. The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence (DV) as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person”. Moreover, DV can be acted out using various means that possess the focal point to intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound another individual.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone and does not discriminate based on race, sex, socioeconomic status, religion, and/or sexual orientation. Studies assert that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of DV by an intimate partner within their lifetime while 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Did you know that each day, an average of three or more women are murdered by their intimate partners (American Psychological Association, n.d.)? Did you also know that a study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders? Yes, DV supersedes just the abuser and victim. Any loved one of the victim can be harmed as a bargaining tool or a pawn to help the abuser gain control back….or a means to get out of the way.
So do you still ponder why it’s not easy to “just leave”? Remember that the nucleus of DV is the strong need for one partner to gain or maintain power over their significant other so when that significant other attempts to leave; this threatens that focal point and sends that partner in frenzy. Because of the new threat to taking this power away, the violent partner will seek means to take that power back and assert themselves back into power status. Means included elevated levels of violence and even homicide-anything to get that power back and strike new fear inside the victim so that he or she will not think of ever leaving again. Then there’s the financial aspect as power typically branches into controlling the flow of money, depleting the victim of necessary financial resources to flee. Children also add a complexity as victims may fear that they will get hurt or even miss the abusive parent if they leave. The loss of cherished keepsakes, valuables, important documents, and clothes can also stop a victim from leaving as fleeing typically means getting away with just the clothes on your back and starting over. Many times, victims even have to abandon their jobs, schools, and communities. A lack of support system can also be a reason why victims stay as they may not have love ones who can house them, keep them safe, and support them; all while they themselves are safe. A lot of times, victims have to start over from scratch when they flee and this can seem like a very daunting especially when children are involved.
Does this mean the victim should stay? ABSOLUTELY NOT. This means that the victim should be provided with resources and supports that will assist in transitioning from their abusive situations into healthy and safe environments.
Let’s talk about this.
Many of you may know that the police can intervene to detain the abuser and provide victims with necessary documentations so that they can obtain Personal Protective Orders (PPOs) that will order that they abuser stay away from the victim. But let’s be honest. Many of them do not respect such orders and see it as just a piece of paper. This is where a safety plan can come in where victims can create an evacuation plan with loved ones that will detail their safe departure from their tumultuous home into safety. Hospitals are another resource as most hospitals have DV social workers on staff or on call to aid DV patients. Next are safe houses which are DV victim targeted and provide anonymous homes in the community that houses victims in anonymity. Typically, police & fire departments keep a list of safe havens and provide escort services to ensure that victims and their children can safely check in free of danger and further victimization. Additionally, there are a plethora of hotlines that assist in linking and referring victims to agencies that will provide assistance and safe havens.
SHELTERS & SAFE HAVENS
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE NATIONAL HOTLINES FOR RESOURCES (INCLUDES IMMIGRANT & INTERPRETER SERVICES)
Fleeing DV is a complex, emotional, and dangerous process but it can be done with the right resources and supports in place. If you or someone you know is battling a DV situation and don’t know where to turn, please refer to the aforementioned resources. Please, please, please don’t tell them to “just leave”.
If you or someone you know need counseling services to assist in the transition and dealing with the after-effects of a DV situation (whether a victim, abuser, child(ren) who witnessed DV, or a loved one who witness a DV situation), I provide individual, couple, and group services to help overcome and cope. Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a session and begin the healing process.