by Amanda Kippert | DomesticShelters.org
The popular TV show Intervention makes the process of interceding in an addict’s life look deceivingly simple. The person doesn’t want to get clean at first and fights against the concerns of those who love them, but with enough people surrounding them in their living room, reading agonizing letters of their worries for the person’s well-being, the addict ultimately succumbs to climbing into an awaiting car and driving off to rehab. Friends and family breathe deep sighs of relief that their loved one is on their way to a healthier life and that imminent danger has passed.
To no fault of their own, concerned family and friends may mistake this process as one that could also work with those trapped in the cycle of domestic violence. Watching someone you care about continually return to a relationship with someone who harms them—even after they admit they know they’re being abused, they want to leave, or are well aware that their children are also in harm’s way—is eerily similar to watching someone return to the often-life-threatening cycle of drug and alcohol abuse.
But, for the three reasons we’ll explain next, an intervention is actually the opposite of what a survivor needs in order to leave an abusive partner.
“I can understand why people might think it’s a great idea to hold an intervention,” says Stacey Moniz, a domestic violence survivor, expert, advocate and consultant of more than 35 years. The problem is, she explains, “victims know way better than anyone else the best way to leave.”
I’ve interviewed survivors before who had young children at home. They told me that they would leave the abuser when their children went to college, fearing that any time before then, the abuser would try to gain sole custody of the children, a fear greater than any abuse he could inflict at home. (Many survivors are living through this nightmare now – see the Battered Mothers Custody Conference).
Moniz tells the story of a friend of hers, a survivor enduring abuse, who she says literally snuck one item out of their house every day.
“Her birth certificate, her child’s birth certificate, one piece of clothing at a time. She would stash the stuff in her locker at work. It took her two years.” Her abuser was monitoring her every move, explains Moniz, and this was the only way the survivor knew to stay safe.
Survivors, says Moniz, “may be in the middle of an exit strategy and we don’t know it.” It may not be our preferred exit strategy, which is more immediate and urgent, but it is the exit strategy that the survivor feels won’t get her or her children killed.
In a survivor’s life, there could be things happening at home that support persons outside the relationship have no knowledge of—the most likely one being threats of harm, not only to the survivor, but also to the children in the house, pets and even extended family members, should the survivor try to leave.
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In a recent survey on DomesticShelters, out of the nearly 600 responses, 582 survivors said they delayed or were delaying leaving an abuser due to concerns of escalated violence.
On the TV show, concerned friends and family give the addict an ultimatum—go to rehab now or that person can no longer be in their life. For addicts, this type of tough love may just be what they need to convey the severity of the situation. But for survivors of abuse who have lived for years, sometimes decades, under the strict control of an abuser, an ultimatum by their friends is the equivalent of what the abuser is doing at home.
“Anytime you tell someone what they should do then it’s not their choice anymore,” says Moniz. “When the victim themselves makes the decision to leave, then it becomes empowerment. That’s really what we want. They can own their decision then.”
Just like alcoholism and drug addiction can be tied to the disease of addiction, something that takes far more than will power to overcome, so does abuse take far more than calling an Uber to escape from.
“We often wonder what it’s going to take for [a survivor] to ‘get it.’ Doesn’t she realize her kids are watching this?” Moniz says that a common misconception of survivors of domestic violence is that it’s easy for them to go and not leaving an abuser means they’re not concerned about their safety or the safety of their children. It places an undue amount of burden and shame on survivors who stay.
“Domestic violence is the only crime where we have to rescue ourselves,” she says. “One of the biggest reasons people don’t reach out for help is the stigma—they’re embarrassed.”
The Better Way to Approach it
Instead of an intervention, Moniz says it’s better to talk to the survivor privately, one-on-one. Give the survivor resources—the local hotline to a domestic violence shelter (Martha’s House 863-763-0202), for information about domestic violence show them this video: “Am I Being Abused?”
Make sure to choose a safe time and place when the abusive partner is not around and the survivor can feel free to speak openly.
If this is not the first time you’ve talked to the survivor and you’re beginning to feel desperate and even burned-out, you could have something called compassion fatigue. The trauma of being witness to this abuse is taking a toll on you as well. In this case, it’s OK to say you need a break, says Moniz.
“You can say, ‘I am so worried about your safety and I love you and of course I’m here for you, but I can’t watch this anymore. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to help, but I’m going to take a break,” suggests Moniz.
“Sometimes we have to give victims permission to go back so they can give themselves permission to not go back.”
For more information, consider reading, “When a Survivor Returns to an Abuser.”
Remember we are here for you 24/7 at 863-763-0202.
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