February 14, 2014
What is the difference between a victim and a survivor? Why do some who experience domestic violence stay in the relationship while others leave? I believe connection with outside support is the key to recovery.
Many victims hide their abuse for years, fearing being found out by the very people who are supposed to protect them—their family and the police. They fear losing their job. They don’t have the financial resources to suddenly move to a new home. In fact, most people don’t. I know I couldn’t move today if I needed to. Some victims come from a religious background that designates divorce as sin. They fear losing their children. They fear being arrested and charged with the same crime, which happens more often than you would think. Or they fear losing all of the mutual friends they share with the abuser, their current support network. Victims who stay in abusive relationships are not “asking for it” as they are often told. They simply don’t have the resources to leave. The difference between a victim and a survivor is that a survivor has taken the first and hardest step in reaching out and regaining control of her life.
Through the AmeriCorps program, I have been serving as a Court Advocate with the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Services Department since early in September. During this time, I have shadowed in Jefferson County Family Court, served as an advocate in Birmingham Municipal Court, made numerous response calls to victims listed on Birmingham city police reports, and staffed the Blount County Domestic Violence Services office.
Over the months, I have come in contact with a variety of women and men who have been victimized. Through no fault of their own, they have been beaten, harassed, threatened, stalked or otherwise caused to fear for their safety. I, as an advocate, assist with calling victims who have current domestic violence cases in Birmingham Municipal Court. I also call victims who are listed on Birmingham police reports to follow up on their safety and offer them our services.
I ask a series of questions:
“Have you been safe since this incident occurred?”
“Have any other incidents taken place?”
“Are you currently living together?”
“Would you be interested in attending a victim support group?”
“Are there any other services you are in need of?”
“Can I leave our Family Violence Crisis Line number with you?”
I can’t count the number of times that I have had this conversation. It gets hard when someone hangs up on me; when I hear an automated voice say, “This user has opted not to receive incoming calls,” knowing this is likely due to past harassment by the abuser; when I hear, “No, we’re back together now—we’re planning a family”; or worst yet, when I hear, “I honestly just wish he’d kill me.” It’s hard to keep making those calls. It’s hard to not feel personally responsible for this person. It’s hard, knowing we receive several hundred police reports a month, and that it’s impossible to reach every victim.
But then I remember the times I’ve been thanked profusely just for listening, for providing a phone number, or for telling someone who to contact in order to file a Protection from Abuse order. I remember a woman who was asked extremely personal questions, attempting to tarnish her reputation, on the stand by a defense attorney during trial, but the judge found her abuser guilty. She thanked me outside the courtroom and asked to hug me. I also remember past conversations with my fellow AmeriCorps members, who consistently provide me with support and friendship.
Encouraging moments like these keep me going, and for many victims, encouraging moments like meeting an advocate in court, receiving a phone call or attending a support group are what keep them from re-entering abusive relationships. Actions that say “You are not alone, you matter, and your safety matters,” build resilience. Whether this support comes from friends, family members, an advocate or an organization, it matters and it is necessary. Never underestimate the impact of one kind action.
If you know someone in an abusive relationship, or you are currently experiencing abuse and want to reach out for help, the Family Violence Crisis Line is open 24/7 at (205) 322-HURT(4878).
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