Learning to Ask the Right Questions About Domestic Violence

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that the first shelters for
animals predated those for
women in our society? Legislation
and organizations
to protect animals and children
also came before protections
for women. This information was
new to me, though unfortunately I didn’t find
it surprising. Though we have won many
advances through consistent struggle,
women’s lives continue to be plagued by
inequality and violence. This is especially true
when we examine the issue of domestic violence.
There is a disproportionate representation
of Women as victims and men as perpetrators
in cases of domestic violence. According
to a Department of Justice report from
February 2003, “Women accounted for 85%
of the victims of intimate partner violence,
men for approximately 15%.”
Though most women and men today
would no longer assert that this is entirely
natural and inevitable, we continue to see
and hear messages from popular media
and elsewhere that women are partly to
blame. This is particularly evident in the
common question, one I have asked
myself, “why doesn’t she just leave?”
In order to gain a better understanding of
domestic violence and ways I might be able to
make a difference in our community, I recently
participated in a 40 hour workshop on
domestic violence offered through the local
agency, A Woman’s Fund. The first thing I
learned was that the question reveals an overly
simplistic view of the conditions women
face in our society and of the nature of domestic
violence itself. We tend to see domestic
violence as primarily about distinct episodes
of physical violence. We may even recognize
that there can be emotional violence too,
however, this too is viewed as episodic. What
we are less aware of is that domestic violence
is not simply moments of violence, it is a
structure that is entwined in daily living and it
spans all areas of a woman’s life.
The controls asserted by abusers
described in the power wheel combine in
dynamic ways that create a cell from which
escape is very difficult and very dangerous.
Workshop presenters informed us that the
risk of severe injury or death goes up by
75% when women choose to leave. We
also learned that when these relationships
end in the death of the victim, 75% of the
time she is killed while in the process of
leaving or has already left.
The question also reveals our ignorance of
the choices survivors are actually making.
Those who study domestic violence and
those who work directly with survivors tell
us that battered women do not stay in relationships
longer than other women. In fact,
most actually do leave, though it takes average
of 5 to 7 attempts before they are able to
break free. Feminist psychologist Lenore
Walker found that, “because of the nature
and intensity of the batterer’s violence and
threats, the battered woman
leaves in stages, testing the
environment to see if she and
her children will can safely
escape and survive together.”
Part of this testing involves
reaching out to the community
and seeking resources and
institutional support. In one
study of more than 6,000 survivors,
researchers found that,
“on average, the women had
contacted 5 different sources
of help prior to leaving the
home and becoming residents
of a women’s shelters.”
The complexities of the factors
within abusive relationships are daunting.
How much more is involved when we
add considerations for leaving? Renting an
apartment, for example, may seem like a relatively
simply task in itself, but what happens
when you add to that having to move your
belongings, obtain financial resources, find
employment, make sure that your abuser
can’t find you, and heal your body and mind
after being immersed and isolated in abuse?
One survivor who has created a website to
share her story lays out just a small number of
the steps that might be involved in leaving
and its aftermath this way:
*Plan your escape* *Change of
Address* *Somewhere to go* *Social
Security* *Get a Bank Account* *Save up
some Money* *Get Credit in your own
name* *Protect your new accounts*
*Dealing with Dept. of Motor Vehicles*
*Joint Accounts* *Legal help* *Divorce*
*Immigration* *Computer privacy* *Telephone
privacy* *Need a job? Train for
free* *Companies that help or hurt* *I’m
out-now what?* *Healthy relationships*
I can only imagine how challenging things
become when there are children involved!
I said earlier that the question, “why doesn’t
she leave?” is a common one. Despite the occasional
flash of media coverage on the subject
and the overwhelming reality of the numbers
of women who experience abuse, there is very
little public discussion of the problem. I was
appalled to learn that even those professionals
who are likely to encounter survivors and perpetrators
on a regular basis-lawyers, judges,
doctors, clergy, and teachers—rarely participate
in training on the subject outside of covering
the rules regarding mandatory reporting
of child and elder abuse. My experience in the
40-hour training was invaluable to me as a
woman, as a person, as a member of this community
and as a citizen in our society. It isn’t
possible to include all of the details regarding
the specific information I learned and the skill
set I gained exposure to in one article. However,
I am definitely better prepared to address
issues of domestic violence with in my work
with perpetrators and survivors. I believe
strongly that it is time for us to remove our
communal blinders on domestic violence and
take steps as a community to join those
already engaged in fighting for its eradication.
Though this will be a long and challenging
battle, a valuable first step would be to call
upon the professionals in our community to
educate themselves on this subject. Participating
in the next 40-hour training from A
Woman’s Fund would be a start!
For further information, please contact
Marya Burke at maryaclarefb@gmail.com

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