This scenario combines the stories and characteristics of several survivors to illustrate how the INTERACTIVE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DIRECTORY can be used by both providers and clients.
Susan is a stockbroker married to a teacher. They have been married for 30 years. The first 15 were bliss. Then her husband fell into a depression after his parents died, and he slowly became more and more abusive, first towards his wife, and then towards their 13-year-old son. They went from being a close-knit and loving family to a broken home full of tension–as well as escalating verbal and emotional abuse. The 13 year-old son is now beginning to imitate his father’s abusive behavior in the way he treats his mother. Susan loves her son and her husband, but she also realizes now that their behaviors are damaging her self-esteem, her health, and her ability to work and to enjoy her own life.
Susan and her husband have recently separated and he is threatening to “destroy her” and she will “get nothing”. He is a well-respected member of the community, belongs to several service organizations, and has a strong legal team. Although his own family of origin is very wealthy, he has recently been laid off and has done a very good job of hiding all his assets.
Her son has gone from being loving and respectful, and a straight “A” student to being defiant and verbally abusive, and failing almost every class. He has recently started smoking pot and skipping school. Susan has developed high blood pressure and can’t focus on her business. She will not go to a support group. “Professionals are not supposed to have this sort of problem.”
She already has an understanding, supportive personal therapist, yet his knowledge of domestic violence is limited. She often wakes up in the middle of the night feeling panicky or alone and has no idea what to do or who to reach out to. Her friends don’t understand.
When asked what she wants or needs, she responds, “I don’t know. I just know I can’t go on living like this.” She does not believe her physical safety is at risk. But she fears the loss of her share of the assets and is very worried about her son’s future and is finding it increasingly hard to live with him. She doesn’t know what her options are or where to go for help.
Susan needs someone to vent to, even if it’s late at night. She’s not even sure if her situation qualifies as abuse since she was never beaten. It would be helpful for her to have someone who:
- can listen to her story with compassion and understanding
- knows all the forms that domestic violence can take
- understands the need for confidentiality
- is available whenever she needs to talk
- can help her develop a safety plan if necessary
Here is where the hotline contacts can help. Next Door, YWCA, and CORA all have free, 24-hour hotlines that Susan can call day or night. And they are staffed by domestic violence advocates who understand the debilitating nature of emotional and verbal abuse. She doesn’t have to give her name. Sometimes a client isn’t even looking for an immediate cure, just someone to hold their pain, acknowledge it, and give them emotional support and encouragement. There are other resources that hotlines can offer as well, such as legal advocacy, counseling, temporary shelter, and help applying for restraining orders.
Susan is having trouble with her adolescent son. He is mirroring his father’s abusive behaviors and is at risk of becoming an abuser or victim himself when he grows up. He is clearly already abusing his mother. Susan is having trouble setting boundaries with her son, since these boundaries have already been severely compromised by her abusive spouse. This is where a parenting coach can help by giving her specific tools and strategies to change the negative behaviors and work towards restoring peace and respect in her home. Otherwise she risks trading one “tyrant” for another.
Susan’s son is also having trouble at school. He is smoking pot, skipping class, and failing. Susan could benefit from the advice of an educational consultant who can help her determine appropriate placement for her son. Since he is still a minor, Susan has more options than if he were already 18. And if her husband objects to placement in a wilderness program or therapeutic boarding school, for example, she can seek a pediatrician’s recommendation and submit that to the judge who could over-rule her husband so that their son can get the help he needs.
Because Susan’s husband was a teacher and still works with youth organizations on the weekend, on paper he looks like a model citizen. Because Susan is a stockbroker and earns more money than he does, her husband’s legal team is working very hard to hide his family’s wealth and make her look like a gold-digger who should pay for her husband’s attorney fees and also pay him alimony. She may want to consult a forensic accountant.
Because the abuse was mostly verbal and the police were never called, there is little for the judge to go on to substantiate Susan’s claims of abuse. She will need a skilled lawyer to help her tell her story.
If she has kept a journal with dates documenting the verbal abuse, this will help increase her credibility.
If Susan can meet with an expert witness in domestic violence and be tested to see if she appears to fit the profile of a battered woman, this will also increase her credibility.
With her husband’s threat to destroy her, Susan needs “a good lawyer”. Her friend recommended the one she used for her own divorce, but her friend was not in an abusive relationship, and this lawyer has no training in intimate partner abuse. Susan could let this lawyer go and find one better suited to her needs.
A domestic violence/legal advocate can help support her in this process, since it can be very difficult for an abused woman to “fire” an authority figure, even if it is in her own best interests to do so.
Susan will need strong legal representation to increase her chances of getting a fair settlement and maintaining custody of her children. Her abusive partner will most certainly have a strong team representing him, determined to intimidate her and call her moral character, fitness as a parent, and sanity into question.
She may also want a legal advocate to accompany her to court and mediation sessions to help deal with the stress of encountering her abuser there.
And she may want to hire a divorce consultant to help explain and navigate the intimidating and overwhelming complexity of the divorce process, particularly when it also involves division of assets, domestic violence, and child custody issues.
Finally, there are books Susan can read to learn more about domestic violence, such as Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” (See EDUCATIONAL AND REFERENCE MATERIALS PAGE). In this way, she can gain a better understanding of the tactics used by her abuser, realize she is not alone, abuse is never her fault, and there are resources and professionals she can draw on for support.
Susan worries about the effect of “a broken home” on her son. She can begin to learn more about the negative impact of domestic violence on children and consider whether, instead of “staying for the sake of the children”, it may often be healthier to leave for the sake of the children.
If isolation is a primary tactic of her abuser, an effective response can be gathering a strong network of support around her, so that she can start making choices and decisions that lead her and her children on a path towards a healthier life based on respect, empathy, compassion, and equality.
May the resources listed in this directory guide her along that path.
The more we know, the more we can do to end domestic violence.