Domestic Violence is a pattern of behavior which is designed to keep the victim, or victims, of the abuser under the power and control of the abuser. The word pattern is a crucial word in the definition. The word pattern indicates that this is a long-term problem, not an isolated incidence of anger which erupts in a verbal or even physical altercation. The words power and control indicate that during this long-term process, the victim is robbed of his or her ability to make their own decisions and choices and to control the direction of their lives. Children ask their parents for permission to do thing; adults should not require “permission” to make phone calls, go to the store, etc. This is the norm in most domestic violence relationships, however. Permission must be requested and for the most part it is never granted. Victims who have lived this way for a long time have no idea how to make choices or decisions, let alone good ones. Their self-esteem is shattered; they have been told for so long that they are incapable of doing anything right that they are often afraid to make even the simplest decisions. Most often, they have been completely isolated from any sort of a support system, family, friends, or otherwise. All of these factors combine to make it very difficult for a victim to make a decision to leave the relationship, let alone make the choices necessary to carry out such a plan.
This is the state that many victims are in when they first make contact with our program. Perhaps a friend or family member was able to convince them that they needed assistance to leave the nightmare that has been their existence. More likely, however, is that there has been an unfortunate incident and/or some contact with law enforcement or the judicial system. At this point, there are many decisions that need to be made by the victim to insure the safety and well-being of their family and for them. Imagine coming to this point in your life, with absolutely no decision making skills. This is where our advocacy is so important. Many times, our clients when they first present to us, have no idea they are victims of domestic abuse, victims of a crime. They have little or no experience with the judicial system, and if they do have experience with it, the experiences were likely not positive ones. It is up to us as advocates to point out all of their choices, being sure to explain them all thoroughly and advise them of the possible consequences of each choice. It is never up to us to make those choices for them, or to try to force them to make a certain choice. This process may be painful for them, and require a lot of patience on our part, but it is necessary for them to begin the process of reclaiming their own lives. If we are allowed the privilege of working with them over a period of time, it is rewarding to watch them grow and develop and begin to make decisions…..good, healthy decisions……..for themselves and their families on a regular basis. When one is used to making decisions and choices, we fail to remember how many of these things we do each day……….choices about when to get up, what to wear, what to eat, how to fill our time…….and on and on. When a victim has not been allowed to make any decisions, the sheer number of choices they have to make each day can be overwhelming. Our guidance as their advocates can make their path back to serenity and safety much less complicated. We must remember to guide them with the respect they have been denied for so long.
This subject has been on my mind lately as I work with a victim who has recently become a client. I have met with her several times, pointed out all the choices available to her situation, explained the pluses and minuses of each, and the possible consequences of each course of action. She has begun to make decisions about her situation with an eye to what is best for her and her family. One decision involved an Order of Protection; she chose not to pursue that relief. She also has a relationship with another agency, one which has significant power over her at this time. They disagree with the decision regarding the Order of Protection and have told her that she “has” to get an OP or face the permanent loss of her children. This is being said, even though the protocol of the agency prohibits this practice, which is much like the behavior of the abuser she is trying to escape. After spending considerable time calming her and assuring her that I would attempt to deal with this situation I have begun conversations with the policy-enforcement officials of the other agency, hoping to change this behavior, not only in this case but others in the future. Again, as advocates, we can make a difference in this fashion. We may not always have immediate success, but at the very least we are showing our clients that they are not alone any longer.
Shelby County Coordinator
Domestic Violence Program