Is there any happy news?

I deal with issues about domestic violence every day in my work. I provide therapy to victims and their families and I regularly testify in court as a domestic violence expert. It would be easy for that to make my life and work unhappy or negative. Nope. That just isn’t me.

There are good things. Every day, women leave abusive relationships and find safety. Most women go on to have happy lives, with loving partners. Contrary to popular opinion, most women that leave abusive relationships, never get into another one. I see the cases where that isn’t true, but it’s good to remind ourselves that most women do get out. And stay out.

I deal with the cases that don’t go well; the women who don’t or can’t get out; the kids who are trapped with being in the custody of an abusive parent. But I deal with the most extreme cases. There are thousands of them, but thousands more that go well.

We are making headway, even when it doesn’t always seem like it. We need to give credit to all those survivors and all the advocates who have helped to change lives. But let’s not break our arms patting ourselves on the back. There is still a huge amount of work to do. The family courts are broken when it comes to dealing with domestic violence. Women and kids are dying every day.

Let’s celebrate the good work, but use that as a springboard to keep us going for the difficult work we still face every day. This isn’t easy work, but no one ever said it would be. Join in the effort to recognize and stop domestic violence.

A “Dispute”

There it was again. A story in the newspaper about a domestic violence case where the writer referred to it as a “domestic dispute.” What a charming way to minimize violence. And make it sound mutual. A “dispute.” That beings to mind two people having a disagreement over something. There is an issue in “dispute” that could be reasonably resolved.

A “dispute” does not conjure up violence in my mind. It sounds mild, calm, and peaceful. A “dispute” sounds like there is some equality in the situation.

Language matters. When we minimize violence by using words that make it more acceptable, we diminish the victims of violence. We make the victim’s experience more palatable; more normal. At the same time we make the victim’s experience less dangerous; less frightening; less meaningful. If we diminish the true violence, then others don’t have to feel so compelled to action or to make judgement against violence. With neutral language we allow people to be safe and secure in their misbelief that family violence is rare and doesn’t happen to people they know.

A “dispute” makes it sound like bones are not broken, psyches are not destroyed, and children who witness it are not harmed. A “dispute” doesn’t involve the kinds of coercive control that are hallmarks of domestic violence.

The article I saw this week involved a homicide. A domestic violence homicide. It was not a “dispute” history, but a history of violence. It’s not a disagreement but one person exercising power and control over another person. It’s one person who exercises entitlement over someone else. It’s a reign of terror. It is not a “dispute.”

Pay attention to language, especially minimizing language. It is domestic VIOLENCE. That word matters.

The next time you see a news report that refers to it as a dispute, notice how that changes the impact. If you really care, call that station or that newspaper and talk to the person who wrote the article. Or write a letter to the editor.

It’s violence; not a dispute.

It’s Not About the Hitting

The vast majority of domestic violence is not physical abuse. It’s not about hitting; it’s about coercive control. The verbal and psychological abuse; the attack on her self esteem – those are far more damaging and much more common. But no one gets arrested for psychological abuse. And it’s hard to explain because others want to trivialize it.

Last week I testified in a court case where the opposing attorney wanted to minimize psychological abuse. During his cross exam of me he asked various questions insinuating that being called names, lots of unwanted phone calls, following her, and threatening her were not a big deal. I had just testified about the cumulative nature of coercive control and it’s impact on her.

You cannot understand domestic violence by looking at each individual incident. Calling someone a name seems trivial. After all, lots of couples argue and say bad things to each other. Calling or texting over and over seems trivial. After all, we can just not answer or delete the messages. If you look at things in isolation, it seems trivial. Where it becomes significant is when you look at the entire context; How it all fits together into a pattern of power and control.

If I tap you on the shoulder, it doesn’t hurt or probably bother you much. But what if I keep tapping for an hour? It starts to hurts. Really hurt. The force I use doesn’t change, but your experience of it changes with the cumulative effect. And that effect is real. But what happens when you complain about it? What if you call the police to make me stop? What do you tell them? She was tapping me on the shoulder. Did she use a weapon? No, she used her finger. Are there injuries? No, but it really hurt. Did she do anything besides tap you on the shoulder a few times? No. Well, there’s nothing we can do about it so call us when something serious happens. End of story.

Except it was real. And what if, while I was tapping, I threatened you that if you called the police, you would really regret it. So now, I take all the money from the bank accounts and put everything in my name only. And I start telling the kids bad things about you and undermining you as a parent. I get the kids making fun of you. Then, I start telling family members that I think you are going crazy because you are making all these statements that make no sense. I had to take all the money away so you wouldn’t do something stupid. And I’m worried you will hurt the kids because you are thinking I’m turning them against you.

If you complain about any of these things, you look petty, crazy, or like you are blowing things out of proportion. Any separate incident looks small and inconsequential. It is only if we look at the whole picture, the entire context, that it makes sense and it’s recognizable as abuse.

This is what abused women live with every day. She has trouble explaining that her experience is abuse. She has trouble believing herself that it’s abuse. There is no law against anything that has been done to her, even though it’s damaging to her.

Now, add name calling, threats, punching holes in the wall, sexual abuse, intimidation, stalking, and more financial abuse, while also systematically isolating her from friends and family. That is a picture of coercive control. Any behavior taken separately means little. It is only by looking at the context that it makes sense.

It’s not only about the hitting.

Six more dead

He goes to the in-laws, demanding to know where his ex-wife is located. They don’t tell him, so he executes six people and a bullet grazes the head of the young girl who survived by pretending to be dead.

We cannot prevent all violence. We cannot predict every time someone goes on a rampage. But, that does not mean that many of these domestic violence homicides are not predictable. We do have some good tools for assessing domestic violence danger. They are not perfect, but they are helpful. And they could prevent many of these senseless deaths.

First of all, prosecute these abusers. Don’t plead them down to a misdemeanor without really assessing their dangerousness. If they have stalked, strangled, threatened to kill, threatened to kidnap or kill the kids: they are dangerous. If they have broken restraining orders, arrest them and violate them to the higher charge. They are dangerous. This is not rocket science. People who have weapons, make threats to their ex, and have committed dangerous acts of domestic violence ARE DANGEROUS.

If we want to keep slapping dangerous people on the wrist, innocent people will die. We have to assess these people for dangerousness and stop lowering charges without consideration of the real acts they have done.

Now they are saying this guy has mental health issues. Are they just figuring that out? I’m guessing they already knew this. Let me see: a violent man who also has mental health issues and has made prior threats. We should give this guy a reduced sentence? We should tell him we don’t take his violence seriously?

If we want to stop senseless deaths , we have to stop pretending that this isn’t predictable. Instead of wringing our hands, use the information we have and take these cases seriously. Stop this violence.

Is it Help or Punishment?

We all, myself included, encourage battered women to call law enforcement when domestic violence escalates and becomes potentially dangerous. We know that police only respond to physical abuse, so it doesn’t matter how much psychological abuse or coercive control has occurred, law enforcement only wants to assess for physical injuries.

When she does call, what happens? Does she get help? Well, that depends. (Don’t you just hate that expression) Does she have any physical injuries? If so, police are supposed to make an arrest. But what is she has no apparent injuries? What if she was strangled but there are no bruises? (Necks often don’t bruise or the bruises show up later) What if she fought back to protect herself and he got scratched? Uh oh. He is the only one with a visible injury. So guess what happens? She gets arrested.

Now she is in jail, she is separated from her kids, and she gets charged. The District Attorney doesn’t want to appear soft on women charged with domestic violence, so she faces charges. And,what is going on while she is trying to get out on bail? The abuser is off to family court to get custody of the kids. And, he will get it because she is being charged with domestic violence. What better way to show her that she better not ever call the cops again, than to take her children?

So, what have we learned here? That it’s never as simple as it seems when you are the victim of domestic violence. That sometimes calling for help ends up being punishment.

Should we encourage people who are abused to get help? Yes, but…..

Welcome to new followers

Since I just invited a bunch of you to follow my blog,I want to thank you. I primarily write about domestic violence issues, but I may branch out. For those of you who may not know this, I spend a lot of my time doing expert testimony for domestic violence, rape, and trauma cases. I testify for District Attorneys to prosecute cases and I also work on defense cases where domestic violence is an issue related to the charges.

I’ve worked on hundreds of cases where women are charged with murder and domestic violence is invoked. She may be pleading self defense or there may be reasons why issues of domestic violence would reduce the sentence. I do a lot of different cases, including several for men who say they were victims of domestic violence.

I try to keep these postings short so I get my point across without taking up lots of your time. Again, thanks and I hope you enjoy my blog. (And you don’t have to lay on my couch)

Linda

Robin Thicke and the Dynamics of Abuse

This was just too good to not pass along

The Belle Jar

TW for domestic violence, abuse and rape

Robin Thicke is gross.

I mean, we knew that already, of course.

But today he has somehow managed to surpass his former grossitude and shot up through the I Can’t Even atmosphere and into the Outer Space Repository of Hella Gross Dudes.

But what could possibly have caused this intense leveling-up, you may well ask. How could he have done something worse than penning the summer’s unofficial rape album?

Well, for starters, he announced the release and official track list of his new album, Paula. Paula, by the way, refers to his estranged wife, Paula Patton. She recently left him. This album is his attempt to win her back.

Let’s take a look at the song titles, shall we?
1. “You’re My Fantasy”

2. “Get Her Back”

3. “Still Madly Crazy”

4. “Lock the Door”

5. “Whatever I Want”

6. “Living in…

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Kids killed in Domestic Violence

Everyone hates dead baby cases. Attorneys, experts, judges, and juries hate dead baby cases. I hate dead baby cases. Yet, I’ve worked on dozens of them.

Domestic violence isn’t just about adults. The vast majority of homes where there is violence, also have children in the home. These children are always impacted, regardless of what anyone tries to tell you. Kids in violent homes are more likely to be direct victims of physical and emotional abuse, but have higher rates of sexual abuse as well. And witnessing the abuse (seeing, hearing, or feeling the tension in the home) is damaging as well.

Men who abuse their female partners are almost always the ones who are the perpetrators when a child is killed. Sometimes the child is a scapegoat; sometimes just another easy target. But, when a child is killed, both parents are usually charged. Even if she is a victim of severe physical abuse, the mother is almost always charged when the child is killed by her male partner. She might be charged with murder, failure to protect, or child abuse. In my experience, juries frequently find her guilty of second degree murder.

Does being abused excuse a mother from being responsible for the safety of her child? No. The problem is always: where do you draw the line? When is she so abused that she cannot protect herself or anyone else from the abuse? When is she safe enough to be responsible for getting her children out of an unsafe home? When is it understandable that her denial didn’t allow her to foresee that he would hurt their baby?

These are all relevant questions and difficult ones. I don’t think any two cases are alike. Each has to be evaluated on it’s own merits because there is no “one size fits all” here. All factors have to be taken into account. Even then, there may be a lot of disagreement.

These are among the most difficult cases we deal with. Children have a right to be protected. And yet, how do we really evaluate for that?

Another dead battered woman

She left him. She moved far away. She had superb family support. She had a restraining order. She had him arrested multiple times. And now she is dead. He killed her. He came to where she had moved, broke into her home, waited for her to return. And killed her.

The next time you or someone you know, trivializes domestic violence, think about the dead women – who did everything right – and they are dead.

This could be your sister, your daughter, your best friend.

She left – and she was still not safe.
She got a restraining order – and she was still not safe.
She reached out for support – and she was still not safe.

Domestic violence is not about what the battered woman did right or wrong.

Domestic violence is about what the abuser does. The choices the abuser makes. Only the abuser can stop the abuse.

Let’s support the victims of domestic violence. But have no illusion that she is never safe as long as the abuser is free to continue the choice to a use her.

Mothers March on Washington

This weekend is the annual Mothers March on Washington, which coincides with Mothers Day. This is part of an entire weekend of activities coordinated by Mothers of Lost Children.

Each year over 58,000 children are placed with abusive fathers, in most cases taken from mothers who have committed no crimes and have no history of abuse. The crisis in the family courts includes decades of gender bias against protective mothers. If a mother dares to bring up abuse in the family courts, the tables will be turned on her, with accusations (requiring no evidence) that she is lying and attempting to alienate her children against their father. Despite evidence of abuse by the father, the courts end up taking children from the custody of mothers who disclose abuse.

This weekend hundreds of mothers will spend their Mothers Day marching at the Capitol to bring attention to this painful and dangerous issue. They will also ask the justice department to take action.

There will be workshops and training during the weekend to address
the legal issues associated with this crisis in the family courts. Additionally, there will be a one day Battered Mothers Custody Conference, led by Dr. Mo Hannah and attorney Barry Goldstein.

Happy Mothers Day to everyone and, for those who do not have your children with you, you are not alone in your fight for justice.