Lifestyle, by definition is the typical way of life for a person or a culture. Lifestyle choices can encompass many things. You may choose to be married, or single, or some variation in between. You may choose to buy a home or rent or live with family. You may choose a “green” lifestyle with the ideal of leaving a better world for future generations. You may choose many things to fill your leisure time, many things to be interested in, many things to teach your children…….which you may or may not choose to have. Location, finances, education, family or work responsibilities….all of these things and others can have an impact on the lifestyle choices you make.
But domestic violence is one thing that is not a lifestyle choice. For far too long society assumed that a victim of domestic violence…………….and victims come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all genders, all education and all economic levels………….chooses to live this way. Victims are assumed to be weak…….to be stupid……….to enjoy this way of life………many myths that are completely ludicrous and completely untrue. The truth is victims are just exactly that………victims of a crime, a crime not only against them but against the laws of the State of Illinois.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior designed to keep the victim under the power and control of the abuser. Far too often the victim is blamed for the violence when it is the perpetrator of abuse who should be held accountable. Can you imagine the public outcry if you blamed the bank teller when banks were robbed? That would be no different than blaming the domestic violence victim for being abused. The domestic violence perpetrator is just as guilty of an unprovoked crime as the bank robber is; and the victim in each case is simply the victim.
For far too long we have asked the question…..” Why does she stay?” when what we should be asking is “Why is he allowed to get away with this behavior over and over?” There are almost as many reasons why a victim stays as there are victims. Each situation is unique……..victims may stay for financial reasons, they may stay because they have nowhere to go, if they have somewhere to go they may have no way to get there. Many victims have been threatened with the loss of their children…….or the loss of their lives if they try to leave. The pattern of behavior designed to give the batterer power and control is insidious…..after a period of time the victim has no self esteem left, possibly no contact with family and friends and believes that they cannot take care of themselves. Sometimes staying where they are is the safest place for a victim……..she knows where her abuser is and what he is doing and when she is in danger. When victims leave a domestic violence situation they are much more likely to be severely injured or killed………when the abuser realizes control is slipping away he becomes much more dangerous.
While every situation can be very different…………there is one common denominator in all of them. Domestic violence is a CRIME. It is against the law. The state of Illinois has very good laws against domestic violence. Relentless prodding over the years by the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence has resulted in strong laws which are improved almost every year. We all just need to do our respective part to make sure that the laws are upheld. Advocates who work with victims need to be sure we are doing our best to educate, to safety plan, and to empower victims to make the call to law enforcement when needed. We also need to educate the public so that people are more aware of domestic violence and understand that sometimes they need to make calls to law enforcement. Law enforcement and the other aspects of the criminal justice system have well-defined responsibilities under IDVA; continuing education will ensure that they are current on laws. An understanding of the basic nature of domestic violence will enable all of them to perform their responsibilities to hold the perpetrators of domestic violence accountable. By doing these things routinely hopefully we can decrease the number of domestic violence incidents. By remembering that domestic violence is a crime….just like DUI, bank robbery, burglary, etc., etc., etc., The fact that the victim has a relationship with the perpetrator should never make DV less of a crime……………..if anything, it should be looked at as an aggravating factor. Not only is a DV victim a true victim of a crime against the State……………it is at the hand of someone who is supposed to be loving and trustworthy. I don’t think any of us can honestly say we know anyone who would actually make that as a lifestyle choice.
Susie Kensil, Shelby County Domestic Violence Coordinator
excerpt from 2013 Candlelighting Ceremony