“Why Doesn’t She JUST Leave?”

By Julieta Barcaglioni-Heller, Housing Assistance Program Manager, Safe Harbor

“Why doesn’t she JUST leave?”

Let’s face it. Maybe, this question has crossed your mind.

In fact, that is the question that most people ask me (I am sure my coworkers get this one a lot, too) when I share that I work with victims of domestic violence through Safe Harbor.

Many may not realize it, but this particular question, worded this particular way, almost automatically places the blame on the victim. And it almost automatically assumes that there’s something wrong with her that she’s not leaving. “It’s her fault. Gosh, what is she thinking? Just leave! “

This particular question shows a misunderstanding about the dynamics of domestic violence, and it fails to address its complexity.

In order to talk about barriers to leaving an abusive relationship and to begin to address why it is so hard for victims to remove themselves from these situations, we must first come up with a better, more informed, more appropriate and less re-victimizing question. A better phrased question that can convey and capture the dynamics, complexity and pervasiveness of domestic violence could be:  

  •  “How can I or we help the victim gain access to safety?”
  • “How can we eliminate some of the barriers that are keeping the victim from being able to leave?”
  • “What are some of the power and control tactics that the perpetrator is using that are preventing her from leaving?”

Now, we can talk.

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It’s Okay to Cry

By Lauren Stephens, Children’s Advocate at Safe Harbor
 
In the children’s program at the shelter, we recently had two sisters, “Hannah” and “Sarah”, who had come to Safe Harbor with their mother after fleeing a dangerous domestic violence situation in their home. These two girls had not yet been given the opportunity to heal or to fully understand what happened with their father due to other situations that occurred in their transition. These two girls are beautiful examples of the differences that exist within the dynamic of sisters. They look so much alike externally, and even after going through identical traumatic situations, they both have learned to handle this trauma in completely different ways.

One day, Hannah was playing with a Jacob’s Ladder that I have in my office; I have found if you occupy a child’s hands, their ability to feel their emotions expands greatly.  As Hannah played with the Jacob’s Ladder, she said, “Can I ask you a question?” I responded, “You can ask me anything you want.” She then replied, with her head low, hands still busy, “Is it okay if I want to cry all the time?” I responded, saying, “It is completely okay to want to cry, and it is okay to cry. Crying is your body’s way of letting something go. The tears you cry is your body’s way of showing you that it is letting go of what makes you sad.”

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What Is Psychological Abuse?

by Wendy Huston, Safe Harbor volunteer

While the bruises and scars of physical abuse are easy to see, the invisible wounds from psychological abuse are hard to identify and often go undetected, even by the victims themselves. But they are nonetheless real and painful.

Perpetrators who inflict psychological abuse use the vulnerability of trust and love established in an intimate partner relationship to create an atmosphere where abuse can thrive through tactics like coercion and intimidation, mind games and financial control. It starts gradually and builds over time, perhaps first with a barrage of daily phone calls to say “I love you” and later to ask “where are you?”, playful teasing that becomes constant belittling and humiliation, or an unpredictable temper that escalates to the point of yelling and smashing things during a trivial conversation.

Victims are made to feel powerless and ashamed, constantly watching what they say or do in order to avoid conflict, wondering if they are imagining or exaggerating the subtle bouts of abuse, trying unsuccessfully to appease their partner, feeling emotionally numb and helpless.

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