It’s hard starting the conversation that you are experiencing domestic violence. There are many reasons not to seek help and many obstacles to beginning that conversation (refer to Behind Closed Doors for more information). Many victims connect telling someone they're in an abusive relationship with having the resources to leave the relationship (Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence study) . Indeed many clients who contact us do so because they are at the point of being ready to leave the situation and require support in doing so safely. And we do help folks who are at this critical transition point, but there are many other good reasons to call us:
§ To know what abuse is… and what it isn’t
Sometimes people are in difficult relationships, sometimes destructive relationships, and sometimes mutually combative relationships. While frustrating, painful and heart wrenching, these relationships do not necessarily evidence the imbalance of power and control that characterizes domestic violence. Conversely, some people have become so accustomed to living with abuse that they begin to normalize actions against them that are in fact highly abusive behaviors. An advocate will help a caller to understand what constitutes domestic violence and to understand the dynamics of power and control.
§ Figuring out your options
By talking to an advocate, a caller is able to identify a full range of options. These options may include leaving the relationship, but may instead be strategies for remaining safer while staying in the relationship. We can work with the caller to identify reasons why she/he is choosing to remain in the relationship and develop plans to address these needs. Is the decision to stay based on fears about inability to support the family on one income? Or is the victim afraid that leaving will enrage the partner and increase the safety risk? Or is the victim choosing to stay because of love for the partner and a desire to work on the relationship? By exploring the underlying feelings, we can help the caller to develop a plan that increases her/his safety and supports their ability to choose.
§ Safety Planning
We work with callers to strategize how they can increase safety. Perhaps they are choosing to remain in the relationship, but want to decrease the risk of future abuse (through a refrain from order, a plan for exiting if they feel unsafe in the future, or other changes to decrease isolation, or otherwise increase safety.) Or perhaps they are permanently leaving the abuse and are aware that this is a time when the potential for violence increases… so they want to proactively strategize how to safely transition. We help callers to develop safety plans for their current situation as well as proactively planning for future situations. While there are guides available on-line to help with safety planning, each individual’s circumstances and concerns are different so a customized safety plan developed specifically with the caller is most effective.
§ Concerns for Children
Parents are often concerned about how their children are affected by exposure to domestic violence. Even when children are not directly abused, they can feel the tensions between their parents. It is also difficult when the parents separate. The child loves both Mom and Dad and may be uncomfortable telling either parent how they feel about the family not being together. Also sometimes because the relationship between the parents is so difficult, they can inadvertently or intentionally involve the children in their disputes. At DVRC we offer specialized children’s and youth counseling for children who have lived in homes with intimate partner violence or who are themselves victims of dating violence or sexual assault.
§ Changes in Laws
Sometimes laws change and these changes can affect accessibility of services to domestic violence victims. DVRC advocates keep abreast of changes that may affect victim’s rights. For example, in July 2008, New York State enacted the “Expanded Access to Family Court” law, which provided New Yorkers who are or have been in an intimate relationship with access to civil Orders of Protection granted through Family Court and Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Furthermore, former intimate partners are now entitled to petition the court for protection orders even when they no longer reside together. Because of this new law same sex partners and unwed parents can now seek the protection of Family Court without being forced to pursue criminal charges through police agencies.
§ Secondary Victims
There’s nothing more difficult than knowing that someone you love- a friend, a daughter or son, a parent- is in an abusive relationship. There’s often a 3-way struggle of 1) wanting to help the loved one 2) frustration with them because they won’t leave the abuse, and 3)fear for their safety. Often these friends and family members of victims, called secondary victims, are distraught trying to figure out how to help without making the situation worse. An advocate can help them to understand the abuse and explore ways to be supportive, and also gives them an opportunity to express their own feelings and how knowing their lived one is living with abuse impacts their life.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or you are concerned for a loved one:
You Are Not Alone…
there is help
Call our 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188
Upcoming blogs about domestic violence this week:
How to offer support to a friend