It is my sincerest hope that we can educate everyone to appreciate the significant challenges many victims face to finding safety and freedom.
Steven Dana, Founder and CEO of Protection From Abuse
As yet another Domestic Violence Awareness Month came to a close, for all the progress we have made toward awareness, our culture still struggles with its view of a victim’s most daunting struggle – leaving the abusive relationship.
From misguided criticism to outright scorn for the victim, the decision to leave or remain with an abusive partner can be an understandable source of pain and division between victims and their family and friends, and even how society perceives victims of domestic abuse.
For the outsider, the solution to an abusive relationship is often perceived to be as simple as basic arithmetic. The “math” goes something like this: You + Abuse – Leave Abusive Partner = No More Abuse. Problem solved! It is the mathematical equivalent to 1 + 1 – 1 = 1. And, in fairness, in some cases, it is that simple as victims do end abusive relationships relatively easily and successfully each day.
So, the “math” isn’t wrong. The solution to an abusive relationship is to safely end the relationship. No one should remain in an abusive relationship. However, although the solution is clear, many victims of domestic abuse have been presented with a very different equation. Their path to the correct solution more resembles an algebraic equation like a2 – b2 = (a – b)(a + b).
That’s because algebra deals with abstractions and variables, and it is both the perceived and very real abstractions and variables many victims face that leave them stuck and unable to reach what appears to be a simple solution – to leave.
The outsider views the solution through simple arithmetic while many victims are presented with a vastly more complex formula to solve. And, therein lies the source of much of the disconnect between too many victims and their families, friends, and society at large.
So, let’s try to bridge this great divide by taking a look at some of the “abstractions and variables” a victim might face before they can arrive at the correct solution to the equation. And, just like algebra, we will use letters to symbolize the unknown – the abstractions and variables of domestic abuse:
- h = H for Housing. Many victims have no family or friends, or their abuser and the relationship has alienated them from existing family or friends. Local shelters are often full, space is always limited, and many shelters cannot accommodate older male children and family pets. And, for families of special needs children, like a family I’m currently consulting with now, simply have ZERO alternative housing options. None. They do not exist.
- e = Employment / Financial Resources. Many abusers are the breadwinner in the family while the victim has cared for the children. Many victims have been purposefully and systematically stripped of access to any financial resources by their abuser as a means to control them. This means no access to money. And, without money, where do you go and how do you eat and live? With no recent work history or relevant job skills, many victims are limited in their potential employment options, and even when an employment option is available, childcare can be an issue.
- p = Pets. The way our society seemingly responds more strongly to help suffering animals rather than suffering humans, I often wonder if we should just focus on the animals caught in the crossfire of domestic abuse to get the help we need, but I digress. Most shelters do not accept pets. Organizations that will house pets for domestic abuse victims exist but are not widespread. Many abusers threaten to harm family pets if the victim leaves, and many abusers follow through with that threat.
- c2 = Change. Change, as in, “will my abuser change like they keep promising.” I think many people forget that even an abusive relationship at some point looked like love for many victims. And, the cycle of abuse that is typical of domestic abuse follows a well-known pattern of tension building, followed by an incident, followed by reconciliation, followed by relative calm that leaves many victims confused and clinging to hope for change.
- c3 = Children. What will happen to the children? “Will I lose custody if I leave as my abuser has threatened?” “Will they abuse the children as they’ve abused me?” “Should I stay ‘for the children?’” Agree or not, the reality is that most abusers – even those convicted of horrible abuse in court, do not lose parenting rights. For many victims, unknown and feared outcomes concerning their children are a major variable to be considered. And, even if the victim does successfully leave the abusive relationship, they still have to co-parent with their abuser.
- t = Transportation. Many victims do not have access to basic transportation. Those who do have access to a vehicle have seen that vehicle sabotaged by their abuser.
- r = Rural. Resources to assist victims and survivors is limited or non-existent in some rural communities.
- s = The System. “Will the ‘system’ support and believe me?” “Will the police take their side if I call?” “Will the Judge believe me and rule in my favor?” I work within “the system” as I am often in court protecting victims and guaranteeing their safe access to justice. And, I can tell you that most of the time, the system does work. But, the system is also a lot like gun laws. Gun laws, or any law for that matter, are guardrails for only those who would obey the law. Likewise, “the system” – restraining orders and threats of criminal consequences included, is only effective against those who would obey the law. There is little practical protection from those offenders hell-bent on breaking the law. And, most victims have heard stories of the system failing other victims. Can you blame them for being fearful?
- m = Murder. Like, “Will my abuser kill me if I leave?” Yes, each year, thousands of women are killed by their intimate partners. Their highest risk of being killed? While leaving a dangerous abuser. 75% of domestic violence-related homicides occur upon, or shortly after separating from an abuser, and this risk can persist for up to two years.
These are just some of the more common, but not an exhaustive list, of the “abstractions and variables” a victim may need to solve to reach the desired solution. Remember, next time you think of someone in an abusive relationship, where you see 1 + 1 – 1 = 1, the victim may be struggling with the equivalent to a2 – b2 = (a – b)(a + b).
It is my sincerest hope that we can educate everyone to appreciate the significant challenges many victims face to finding safety and freedom. We can all start by throwing away our judgments and simple arithmetic.
About the Author
Steven Dana is the Founder and CEO of Protection From Abuse and host of Women’s Safety Tv. He is a Victim-Witness Protection Specialist, an armed Personal Protection Specialist, credentialed Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Program Management Victim Advocate, and Security Consultant.
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