By Kelly, Domestic Abuse Advocate
“MY NAME IS DEB. I AM A SURVIVOR. After 24 years of marriage, I took the first step out of a mentally abusive (20+ years) and sexual abusive (the last 6 weeks) relationship. That step was a very hard thing to do, but it was the greatest step in my life.”
Only about half of domestic abuse incidents are reported to police. A victim can have many reasons for not reporting: the victim views the incident as a personal or private matter; fears retaliation from her* abuser; or does not believe that police will do anything about the abuse. The abuser often reinforces these misconceptions and attempts to add to the fear by convincing the victim that the abuse is her fault—but that is wrong. The victim is never to blame.
One evening last fall, Deb did choose to call police, after her husband was abusive. A law enforcement member of the local DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) responded to the call. After de-escalating the situation, the police officer explained to Deb how an advocate from Helping Services’ Domestic Abuse Resource Center could help survivors like her stay safe. Deb decided she would like to talk with an advocate, and the officer assisted her in calling the Resource Line.
Over the phone, the advocate and Deb discussed a detailed safety plan and the steps for obtaining a protective order. The advocate answered Deb’s questions and addressed her uncertainties. Eventually, Deb felt informed and ready to make the decisions she needed to be safe, such as choosing to apply for a protective order against her husband, which the advocate helped her file.
Later on the advocate accompanied Deb to court to make the protective order permanent, so she did not have to face her abuser alone. As he was leaving the courtroom, her husband actually attempted to talk to Deb. He was arrested immediately for breaking the order.
Because of her severe situation, Deb was able to get and retain an emergency protective order. Having always been the sole income provider, after her husband was served the protective order, she felt somewhat safer and relieved that he had to leave and she could keep the house.
The advocate also connected Deb with an attorney, to assist with her legal needs, and a therapist, to help Deb process the trauma she experienced, as a result of years of physical, mental, emotional, and financial abuse.
Deciding what is the best way to stay safe and protect herself is always up to the victim. It may not be safe to leave an abuser right now, or other barriers could be prohibiting her escape. But when the victim decides it is time to take action, it is the right time, and our advocates will be ready to help. As Deb shares:
“Follow your intuition; I should have followed mine 20 years ago. But you can’t change the past, so move on. Don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself. Be blessed with each new day of your life, which I now have back. That is the best thing you can do for yourself. Stand up for yourself, and believe in yourself. You are a good person. I know I will never hear that my ex-hubby is sorry for the things he did to me, family (mine and his), friends, and neighbors. Reach out for the help that is out there. You don’t have to do it alone. Stay strong, and you will get through it. God Bless.”
Leaving an abuser is just one step of a survivor’s process towards a future without violence. It takes courage to seek the relief that can come from starting over in a new environment, but it can be stressful and disorienting. Moving forward is different for everyone, and it is a lifetime journey.
Numbers are from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.