“Abuse arrests drop as calls for help soar: Advocates say victims turn to shelters after losing faith in the legal system“
was the headline splashed across Sunday, September 25th’s Star Advertiser newspaper.
Investigative reporter, Rob Perez, who won the prestigious Dart Award in Journalism for his December 2008 seven part series “Crossing The Line – Abuse in Hawaii Homes” http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/specials/crossingtheline/domesticviolence_resources was back on the trail, following up on what appears to be Hawaii’s most hidden yet most acknowledged problem: domestic violence.
In this article, which can be found at http://www.staradvertiser.com/s?action=login&f=y Rob seeks to explain the discrepancy in the decline of calls for formal police intervention vs. the rise in calls for service interventions such as emergency shelter.
For those unfamiliar with the details of a domestic violence victim’s predicament “losing faith in the legal system” may sound like a pretty harsh criticism by those who should be grateful for any type of response at all but as you’ll see, it’s not a judgment call but a series of revelations that leads to this loss of faith in the system.
Starting all the way back to the very beginning, DV victims are no different then any other person in terms of their belief systems. If they’ve never had any personal entanglements with the law, they’ve seen at least one show of “Cops”, “Law & Order” or “Judge Judy” at some point during their lives and that may be the extent of their knowledge about the legal system.
At the same time (and this is going to be a hard concept to consider) there are also some victims in the abusive relationship who are seriously unaware that they’re even in an abusive relationship. YOU might see the relationship for what it is, but if SHE hasn’t been educated on what domestic violence is, she’ll be more inclined to dismiss your concerns for her welfare and safety by minimizing what you observe, ie:
- He’s just having a bad day; he’s not usually like this.
- He gets jealous; it’s kind of cute actually.
- When he drinks he gets physical but he’s fine otherwise.
Many victims will respond like this NOT because “they know” and are trying to conceal the truth from you or are “in denial” consciously choosing to ignore a blatant truth, but because they truly do not recognize the situation they are in – they just don’t see it.
Trying to explain to a victim that she is one may feel like a fools errand and may risk your relationship with her BUT whatever information you share about the signs of DV will register and someday she’ll be able to put 2 + 2 together (but please be aware that that may also take a substantial amount of time).
If you put yourself in her position, you’d find yourself blissfully unaware of a complicated legal system and being in a relationship that “has its ups and downs like any other”, but one day something happens that’ll change all that. Every victim’s moment of revelation is different (but if the victim has children in-common with her abuser, her moment of revelation often has something to do with the children: either she sees the effects of the DV in her children, Child Protective Services has been notified or the children have become subsequent victims of the same abuse).
NOW we’ve made it to the “time to go” part – NOT as easy as it sounds… For any victim who has not yet fled or for any friend/relative/acquaintance of a victim PLEASE make sure the following message is understood by the victim:
Under no circumstances – especially during a fight/argument – do you threaten to end the relationship or say that you are leaving.
The #1 “cardinal rule” of a DV relationship is “You will not leave me” – once that rule is broken, all bets are off which means your life could be in REAL, serious danger. DO NOT TEST THIS! If you are aware that you’re in an abusive relationship or know of someone who is and want to help, please consider calling one (or all) of these phone numbers to get advice and education:
- Pu’uhonua DV Crisis Line at 585-7944
- Parents & Children Together Shelter Line at 526-2200
- The Child & Family Service Shelter Hotline at 841-0822
- The Domestic Violence Action Center at 531-3771
- The Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 832-9316
If the victim is not already fearful and terrified of her situation and for her children, by the time she’s educated on the facts of domestic violence, she will be. Often this crash course on DV is enough to make a victim re-think her predicament and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The best exit plan is one that is well thought-out, planned and prepared for; if at all possible avoid a mad dash out the door (but if it comes to that, follow your instinct and GO!)
Whether she flees to a shelter, a family member or friend’s place, the next thing she’ll go through is some form of shock: she’s going to be emotionally and perhaps physically exhausted, living on a moment-by-moment basis. If she has kids, the kids are not going to be themselves either – even the best well-behaved child could have a complete meltdown or the older “more responsible” child may suddenly decide to not be responsible at the most inopportune moment, ie: right now. At the same time, the abuser will be looking for her and he’s NOT going to be in a good mood; she knows this from the bottom of her soul and will be thinking about the “punishment for her crime” should he catch up to her. While all of this is going on she’s going to be getting an introductory crash course into the legal system, typically in the form of a Temporary Restraining Order (an Order For Protection). http://www.courts.state.hi.us/docs/1FP/1FP752.pdf
I don’t know if they still do this but I think DVAC used to do a “TRO Orientation” that would walk interested parties through the TRO process so they would know what to expect. When I was a supervisor for a DV program, I sent my staff to this orientation and all of them came back completely overwhelmed just by all the information they had to absorb in such a short period of time. My point for this staff exercise was not only to acquaint them with the process, but to give them a feel for what the victims would have to go through (but my staff had the benefit of going through this process WITHOUT all the stressors mentioned above).
One of the bigger myths out there is that family court “passes out TROs like they were candy” – that has NOT been my experience with DV victims and survivors. I have sat with genuine victims who were denied TROs because they were not able to articulate the imminent harm they were facing or who gave a “watered down” complaint once they realized their abuser would receive a copy of what’s written and some just bailed altogether saying “I don’t think he’s mad enough to kill me, but serve him this TRO and he will be – forget it! I’ll take my chances.”
For those “lucky” enough to get a TRO, they’re about to learn that all the promises for protection and safety are initially good intentioned well-wishes that will soon be made a mockery of in the legal system.
Please go to the next article “Losing Faith In The Legal System” for Part II of this story.