One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Why Do They Stay? May 4, 2012

Filed under: child custody,divorce,domestic violence,financial control,Why do they stay? — Women's Studies Intern @ 10:11 am

A few weeks ago we blogged about SPENT, an online program that challenges users’ notions of poverty as they attempt to survive life’s challenges as a low-income individual.  We urged our readers to test themselves and play.  That got us thinking; why not create our own questionnaire that challenges our readers to think about why victims stay in abusive relationships?  Leaving an abusive relationship is not as easy as simply walking out the door.  It is a process, and the motivations and results vary according to each woman or man.

Imagine you are a victim of domestic violence and answer Question 1.  Then, follow along as you begin to think about why victims of domestic violence might stay in their abusive relationships.  Click on “RESULT” to learn more about how the scenario can affect a victim of domestic violence and the statistics surrounding that affect.

  1. Are you married to your abuser? (If yes, go to Question 2)

    Are you dating but living together with your abuser? (If yes, go to Question 2)
    Are you dating but living apart from your abuser? (If yes, go to Question 3)
  2. Do you have somewhere at which you can stay if you decide to leave? (Go to Question 3)

    Do you have the financial abilities to afford to rent an apartment or home? (Go to Question 3)

  3. Do you have a child or children? (If yes, go to Question 4.  If no, go to Question 6)
  4. Is your abuser the father or mother to your child(ren)? (Go to Question 5)
  5. Do your children require child care? (Go to Question 6)
  6. Are you employed? (Go to Question 7)
    Are you unemployed? (Go to Question 7)
  7. Do you have health insurance? (If yes, go to Question 8.  If no, go to Question 9)
  8. Is your health insurance dependent on your continued relationship with your abuser? (Go to Question 9)
  9. Do you speak English?
    Are you non-English speaking?

These few questions reflect just some of the situational reasons why a victim may stay with her or his abuser, but there are a multitude of emotional reasons as well.  Some of these include fear of the abuser, love, believing no one can help, or being isolated from friends and family members by the abuser.  Ultimately, it is the victim’s choice whether she or he wants to leave an abusive relationship.  Safety should be prioritized.  We must validate the experiences of the victim and allow her or him to make her/his own decisions.

We would love to hear about your experiences following along with this blog post.  What are some other things that may keep a victim from leaving an abusive relationship or keep her or him from speaking out about her/his experiences?  Leave your comments below.


NC Pre-K and the cost of child care March 21, 2012

As I think this blog does a good job of showing, interpersonal violence (IPV) is not fought against on only one front. There are an array of factors which must be overcome before an end to IPV can be fully achieved. On this blog we have discussed issues such as gender rolesbeing an active bystander, and challenging IPV stereotypes. One of the most prevalent questions concerning IPV is why does s/he stay? Well, one reason a person might stay in an abusive relationship is because of her/his children.

Economic abuse is often connected to other, more readily “visible” abuses such as physical or emotional. Perhaps the abusive partner will not allow the other to work, or the abuser controls/monitors the family banking accounts, or everything (lease, car, utilities, bank account, credit cards) is legally under the abuser’s name.  When any of these apply, financial considerations are not minor when deciding whether or not to leave an abusive situation. If there are children involved, financial considerations are compounded because it is not only the individual’s well being which must be provided for but also her/his children. Most people leaving an abusive situation would rely on their current job or becoming employed and keeping that job; their livelihood and their childrens (if present) will rely upon it. If the IPV survivor has children than there is an added challenge: childcare. If the children are school age than that care might not be as big of an obstacle, but if the child(ren) is below the age of five, childcare can be a huge challenge.

Right now, the cost of childcare for a four year old in NC is on average more expensive than one year’s tuition and fees at a NC public university. Current legislation is seeking among other thing, to cut the state tuition assistance eligibility for NC Pre-K by over 50%. Currently, a family of four earning about $50,000/yr would be eligible for assistance. With the new proposal, a family of four would have to make $22,000/yr for a child of four to be eligible. The 2012 poverty guideline designates a family of four to live in poverty when they have an income of less than $23,050/yr. So, in NC a family would have to live $1,050 under the poverty line in order to gain tuition assistance for their four year old. After a public outcry against the  legislation it has been drastically revised. But the issue of tuition assistance and at what income the cap is going to be is still undecided.

I want to highlight two things from this:

1) Childcare is not only an issue for parents or caregivers to worry about. Like IPV, childcare is a community and public health issue. It’s just good practice for a society to take care of its children, to care for the most vulnerable who are unable to care for themselves.  In addition, the legislative proposals for NC Pre-K would drastically cut funding for families in need and that – besides being an issue for society at large – could be a huge factor in  an IPV survivor’s decision about leaving or staying with her/his abuser. Affordable childcare could be one more tool in helping an IPV survivor leave their abuser for good.

2) Look at what can happen when people speak up! I found out about the NC Pre-K proposal a few days before it was supposed to be voted upon. The organization MomsRising was encouraging people to write to their legislators to voice their opinion about the new proposal. Thanks in part to that organization as well as other efforts on the part of educators, school officials, parents, and concerned citizens the legislation has become a list of recommendations AND one issue, the privatization of NC Pre-K, was completely taken off of the proposal.

There are SO many things that individuals can do. Like this – be politically aware. Read a newspaper. Make a point to know about the policy changes and proposals being made on local, state, and national levels. We, as advocates, are SO powerful! Our voices are strong and when we use them great things can happen. We need to remember that.  And use it to our advantage.  How do you call attention to something that you feel is wrong?  Leave us a comment and let us know.


The secret no one wants to have December 9, 2011

Filed under: community education,domestic violence,volunteering,Why do they stay? — Women's Studies Intern @ 11:42 am

PostSecret is a website many people enjoy visiting. It began as a blog that published anonymous secrets and has evolved into an internationally popular destination website with approximately 5 million viewers, a number of books, and a mobile app. While the concept has adapted to new technology, the premise is this: people send unsigned postcards to Germantown, Maryland where creator Frank Warren, then publishes the postcards on the PostSecret blog. Warren describe the blog as “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.” It is a space to reveal the things you think about, or recognize, or are ashamed of. Things that you need to say out loud and have other people hear, but that you don’t feel you can or don’t choose to say to those around you. Each secret is accompanied by a picture to illustrate the secret. From flippant comments about facial hair, to more serious secrets about suicide, PostSecret has them all.

On Sunday, November 27’s blog post, 17 new postcards were posted. Among them were two postcards bearing the picture of a black eye. One, a postcard of a girl doll with a colored in green and yellow circle around her eye reads: “I would rather be hit than ignored. I know how bad that sounds. I needed to tell you.” The other, is a black and white image of the upper quarter of a face. A blue, green, and black mark is colored in under the eye. A voice bubble over the eyebrow reads: “I don’t know how to leave him.”

There are a number of disturbing factors to these postcards. An obvious one is that two more people are being abused. Two more people feel trapped in their situation. But what I would like to focus on is where these postcards ended up. On an anonymous secrets blog. The only action these two survivors felt comfortable with, was to acknowledge their abuse to an unknown mass in complete anonymity. Their abuse is the big secret they cannot reveal, yet must speak.

Why abused people stay in a harmful relationship is one of the most common questions related to intimate partner violence.  Many people might insist that they would never stand for abuse in a relationship.  Unfortunately in that statement is an inherent disconnection from potential sympathy for someone who is in a bad place and needs help. Abusive relationships come in every shape and size and effect every type of person. They can affect anyone at any time.  No one wants to see themselves as a victim of abuse. No one pictures themselves becoming an abuse victim.

There are many practical reasons a person might stay in an abusive relationship: fear, presence of children, economic barriers, religion, etc. but also common are reasons which can stem from internalized beliefs about how men and women exist in society i.e. a feeling that they need a partner to complete them, a belief they did something to deserve the abuse or can do something to change it, shame over their partner’s behavior and their own powerless to stop it.

It is these societally influenced reasons that, I believe, led to the two above mentioned postcards.  The postcard that read “I would rather be hit than ignored,” could point to a belief that we sometimes hear from female clients that they feel incomplete without a partner. This message is reinforced to women all the time through media, even friends and family.  Such as when the first question a relative asks upon seeing you is if you have a partner, the barrage of romantic movies, or the overwhelming amount of beauty/fashion/sex tips geared towards women so they can “find a man”. These  messages inundate the subconscious with the belief that women need men to be complete.  Add to this toxic mix a partner who reinforces this idea (“who else would be with you?” or “who else would love you/take care of your kids?” ) and/or subscribes to very firm ideas of male/female roles in relationships and it can be easy to see how victims can feel trapped.

The second sentence of that same postcard, “I know how bad that sounds,” is a recognition of the judgment that exists in the question “why do they stay?“. Abused individuals might have even previously said those things. By acknowledging that it “sounds bad” to stay with an abusive partner, the individual illustrates how she is torn between having a partner and being abused. Conversely, while intimate partner violence (IPV) myths (“not to people like me”) abound and an “us/them” divide exists, society simultaneously shames these women for being in the position which they were socialized intoSocial psychology explains that by marking someone as a “they,” people create  a divide which is hard to cross. When we create division over one aspect, such as whether a person has been abused or not,  we prevent unity on a range of other traits. This means we prevent change from happening, from help being extended.

The other postcard reads: “I don’t know how to leave him.” The fact that this individual doesn’t know how to leave her abuser strikes me as emblematic of another social problem: a lack of education about community resources and IPV. As noted by this blog’s title, one in four women will experience domestic violence be abused in her lifetime. When you consider the people effected by abuse besides the victim/survivor.  IPV is likely to affect everyone in some way in their his/her lifetime. The work done by organizations such as ours and partners like law enforcement and the judicial system is just not enough to increase public awareness of interpersonal violence. We believe that IPV is a community issue and requires a community response.  That means churches, schools, universities and places of business all need to get on board with helping build greater awareness about the prevalence of this issue and what can be done to help those in need.

Start with you!  Here are a few things that you can do right now. Learn some tips to be an effective ally, have your work or church host a cell phone drive, or volunteer at FVPC. These postcards exist because of all of us. We live in a world that labels abuse as something we cannot speak about. As long as an abuse victim feels this, they will be silent. Their silence and pain is all of ours. We all have work to do.


_Family Guy_ episode blames victims, perpetuates stereotypes…all in 30 min! November 19, 2011

Filed under: dating violence,Victim Blaming,Why do they stay? — Elizabeth Johnson @ 10:44 am
Tags: , ,

From a guest blogger, one of our MSW Interns:

Although I do not usually watch Family Guy, it was hard to ignore the deluge of angry headlines criticizing a recent episode: “Screams of Silence”. As a fan of both bad TV and educational opportunities concerning domestic violence, I decided to watch it for myself.

The episode re-introduces us to Quagmire’s little sister, Brenda, who comes to town with her abusive boyfriend, Jeff. Brenda and Jeff encapsulate every stereotype of an abusive relationship: he is a large and overly aggressive; she is small and timid.  Jeff constantly berates Brenda in front of her family and friends and at one point in the show, drags her into another room where you can actually hear her being beaten. Quagmire and friends are, of course, immediately shocked and horrified at what they see and hear.  The men ask Lois to talk to Brenda, who denies the severity of the abuse and makes excuses for Jeff’s behavior.

At one point in the show, Brenda’s friends and family stage an intervention in which they accuse her of being a “punching bag” and berate her for allowing the abuse to continue. The fact that this intervention was portrayed as a serious approach to dealing with a survivor of domestic violence was horrifying. Victims are not responsible for their partner’s actions; blaming them for abuse only reinforces feelings of shame and guilt that contribute to their reluctance to seek help. Furthermore, forcing victims to choose between their social support and an abuser is a dis-empowering approach. Ultimately, this will only increase the isolation the victim, making it more difficult for them to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, this is the scene that millions of viewers will remember as a legitimate method for helping victims. Instead of an intervention, Family Guy could have portrayed more realistic treatment options: Brenda could have visited a local domestic violence center, stayed at an overnight shelter, or attended a support group for victims. If the writers could poke fun at an intervention, they surely could have found the humor in a more legitimate alternative.

I don’t expect accurate depictions of reality from shows such as Family Guy, which is why I found the topic of this episode to be completely inappropriate. Because there are so few realistic representations of domestic violence on TV, generalized stereotypes—even if they are intended as satire—are often the only exposure many people have to these situations. Promoting misconceptions about domestic abuse is harmful and discourages victims from seeking help.  Shows that choose to feature domestic violence have a responsibility to understand the basic dynamics of abusive relationships in order to protect the integrity and rights of victims. If shows such as Family Guy feel that they absolutely must use domestic violence for comedic effect, they should feature a more representative portrayal of the issue. Even something as simple as the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline flashed at the end of the show could have the potential to save lives.  I hope to see future shows covering domestic violence in a constructive way that brings attention to the complexity of the issue while providing resources and information to victims, their families, and their friends.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in an intimate partner relationship, please call our 24 hour hotline: 919 929 7122.


“Not Guilty”: The Barbara Sheehan trial October 7, 2011

Barbara Sheehan killed her husband. That fact has never been debated. Yet, in the month long trial that reached its end just yesterday: Thursday, October 6 there was constant debate. The debate was over Ms. Sheehan’s claim of the battered woman’s defense. Ms. Sheehan’s attorney, Michael Dowd, a lawyer who has defended many battered women, portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a chronically abused wife who shot her husband in self-defense. The prosecution portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a cold, exacting killer who hated her husband, killed him, and then fabricated an abuse narrative to escape justice.

The battered woman’s defense came about in the late 1970s as an extension of the battered woman’s syndrome, coined by Dr. Leonore Walker. Battered woman’s syndrome attempts to explain the mindset and emotional state of women who have suffered long term abuse. It is based on the idea that abuse victims begin to operate in a reality different from non-victims due to the continual violence, fear, and manipulation connected to the abuse.  This syndrome has been more recently linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. Legally, the battered woman’s defense, allows the use of domestic violence related testimony, which otherwise would not play a large bearing in a murder trial.

The problem with using the battered woman’s defense is that the defense still has to maneuver the jury’s opinions and perceptions of victims of domestic violence. The prosecution used a barrage of domestic violence myth based questions in the examination of Barbara Sheehan and her son. They exploited the fact that Barbara stayed with her husband; that there were no police records of violence; that some neighbors and friends described her husband as a “nice guy” who coached youth leagues and threw his daughter a sweet sixteen party. Reading the comment boards on some news sites, this line of prosecution was more effective than one would wish to think.

Abusive relationships are very difficult to get out of. Victims are often in very powerless situations and have very limited options if they want to leave. It is also a fact that lethality drastically increases aftera victim leaves an abusive situation.

And while the prosecution of the Sheehan case was more than willing to portray Raymond Sheehan as a dutiful police officer that helped in the aftermath of 9/11, what was left unsaid were exactly what options the wife of an abusive police officer husband would have by way of reporting the crime.

The surprise by outsiders that Mr. Sheehan was abusive is actually not shocking when coupled with an understanding of domestic violence and abuser methodology. It is to be expected. Abusers tend to be very charming and gregarious when they want to be. Despite popular belief, they do not walk around with an “A” tattooed on their forehead. Only in a society where domestic violence is not as widely understood as the pervasive and serious issue that it is, would a prosecution consider those lines of questioning the best route in swaying a jury.

While the jury in the Sheehan case, acquitted Barbara Sheehan of murder yesterday, the attitudes about the case in newspaper articles and websites, the comments made by those following the case, and the language used in reports of the case, make it very clear that domestic violence is still largely misunderstood.  It is important for the silence around domestic violence to be broken.

You can help debunk the myths and change the attitudes about domestic violence! Become informed. Reading this blog is a great first step! Talk to your friends, coworkers and family members about domestic violence and its effects. Speak up when you hear victim blaming or perpetuation of dv myths. Continue your support of FVPC and its efforts to educate others about domestic violence, and be an ally for those who have/are experiencing it.


Poverty Simulation Needs Volunteers! August 19, 2011

Filed under: poverty,Why do they stay? — Women's Studies Intern @ 1:41 pm

Would you like to have a better understanding of poverty and how it affects the lives of those who live through it? The United Way of the Greater Triangle is facilitating Poverty Simulations as a way to promote awareness of the issues surrounding poverty and the need for human services.

The next Poverty Simulation is currently scheduled for Tuesday, August 30 from 2:30pm-6pm at Christ United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, but they need volunteers to make it happen!  Volunteers do not need to be affiliated with the church.  Each volunteer will be given a specific role to play in the simulation.  There will be an hour long training a few days prior to the simulation.

Here at FVP, we know there is a clear correlation between poverty and domestic violence, as this article issued by the Office of Violence Against Women discusses.  Their findings are quite similar to what we know where in office:

  • During harder financial times,  we see our client numbers increase as people grow more desperate for help.  And;
  • The relationship swings the other way as well: the challenges and high stress of domestic violence conditions can cause financial scarcity

Sadly, a lack of financial security is also one of the reasons why domestic violence victims remain in their unsafe relationships.  One way that abusers control their victims is through financial means: they don’t allow their partner to work; or call their partner at work and demand that they return home; they show up at their partner’s work so often that the partner loses their job because others become afraid; they deliberately pay less child support than agreed; they force their partner to work multiple jobs and they opt not to work.  This list could go on and on.

If you would like more knowledge about the challenges DV victims and others in poverty face, consider getting involved with the Poverty Simulation!  Or if you are simply interested in attending, contact Laurie Williamson: lwilliamson(at)unitedwaytriangle(dot)org