By Lisa Silfrit
Special to The PREVIEW
She’s free. She and her children are safe. She has finally made the decision to leave her marriage after years of emotional and physical abuse, and she has no intention of ever returning. A huge weight has been lifted off her aching shoulders.
Little does she know that now she has to prepare herself for all her trauma to be hung out for the courts to see, her abuse will be put into question, and her children will inevitably be used as pawns in his control over her until a judge is able to sign the final parenting and divorce orders in a year if she is lucky, in many more if she is not.
“Why don’t you just leave your abusive partner?” is asked repeatedly as we watch our loved ones be victimized over and over again. A victim is faced with many questions, such as does she leave her partner and no longer have the ability to protect her children during time he will now have them without her, or does she continue to allow her perpetrator to use her as a punching bag and not them? Does she leave the comfort of being financially provided for, having a roof over her and her children’s heads, and being able to provide healthy meals for their growing bodies?
To leave is to decide whether to live in poverty or be financially stable and the financial stress is only escalated when she realizes that she cannot win a fight with her perpetrator in court without pricey representation. The perpetrator then uses her poverty situation against her, arguing to the judge that he is a more fit and stable parent. Filing for child support may not be an option because it will only send the perpetrator into a spinning rage, escalating harassment and verbal abuse.
For many victims of domestic violence, the act of leaving is only the first step to a long, drawn-out legal battle. Perpetrators often use civil court proceedings or threats of court proceedings to continue to hold control over victims and their children. The perpetrator can be noncompliant with civil legal proceedings, which adds to the number of hearings, each hearing costing the victim hundreds of dollars in attorney fees. Perpetrators may also begin to turn the children against the victim so the parenting time that the victim does have is jeopardized and spent trying to rebuild bonds that were maliciously sabotaged. Unfortunately, these behaviors by the perpetrator might not be easily connected to any definition of abuse during the course of the custody litigation, leaving no repercussions for these actions.
Despite all of the challenges faced when leaving, many brave victims make the decision to escape for the safety of themselves and their children.
At Rise Above Violence, we have identified the challenges of this decision and began our Legal Program in January in order to assist victims with the burden of allocation of parental responsibility and divorce cases. Our mission in this program is to increase safety and enhance legal outcomes for the victims while helping them through the complicated process of preparing court documents, understanding court proceedings and, if deemed necessary, partnering them with an attorney contracted through Rise.
The way abusive behaviors manifest themselves in court have been identified as a huge barrier for victims of domestic violence and sometimes acts as a deterrent to leave. Rise is still actively looking for attorneys willing to help victims of our community in the above stated civil legal cases. If you are an attorney or know an attorney that shares our organization’s goals and mission, please contact email@example.com.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and there are many things you can do to help. Please consider volunteering your time as a crisis advocate or help us run one of our fundraising event. Rise operates from grants and generous donors in our community. Consider being a monthly donor; even $10 a month adds up quickly when a community commits together. Visit the donor page at our website to learn about all the ways you can help.
Rise is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides 24-hour support and advocacy services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault or other forms of violence, serving over 300 victims each year. Rise also works to eliminate violence through education for youth and our community. All programs and services are free and confidential, including emergency prevention education and empowerment programs. Visit www.riseaboveviolence.org for more information or call 264-9075 to talk to an advocate today.
By Lisa Silfrit