As a survivor of domestic violence, I went through a short-time involvement with the child welfare system-Child Protective Services- as well as the family court system. Actually, they are often interconnected. Having suffered abuses of many kinds by my former husband, the father of my children, the situation came to a ‘head’ in one fell swoop, so to speak.
My ex-husband was a veteran who, in the midst of a rant, displayed signs of PTSD[post traumatic stress disorder], from his military experience. Before the day he ordered me to call 911, to make a ‘false’ report of child abuse[sexual], I had been physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically abused by him for about 7 years. There were many occasions where I was being physically abused and my children, our children, were within view and/or earshot.
Rendered powerless and just torn and worn down, I was rendered powerless in that relationship and yet remained there. I was too afraid to leave and too ashamed to tell anyone. In fact, I don’t think that I was consciously aware that I was being abused. I did know that I didn’t like it, though. I desperately wanted out, but was too afraid to leave. That fateful day when the police arrived at my door, precipitated an emergency room visit.
Explaining what was going on in my home, I was told to take my children and leave him. I still remember the words spoken by the caseworker at the hospital. She practically said outright, that it was my fault, and I wasn’t protecting my children. I was pretty much being told that it was MY fault that I was being beaten, and that only echoed his words to me. It was always ‘my fault’. I had limited to no power, but just enough to force him to hit me, while saying “You made me do this”.
When I knew that any or all of my children were nearby, I would try to shield them, rush them into their room, and close the door. I showered my kids with love, affection and attention everyday. They were my bright spot, my salvation my calm in the almost daily storms. Rarely were they away from me. Kids are terrific people. Sometimes, when he had left the house for work or for air, I would then break down and cry. I never could do so in his presence; it only made things worse. Confused, yet compassionate, my kids would sense the sadness, and try to comfort me. What sweet innocence!
The focus has been traditionally, in cases of violence in the home, intimate partner violence[IPV], placed on the primary caregiver, the mother, the woman. Not on the breadwinner, though. What did or didn’t she do? Where did she go wrong? It is seen as her neglect and failure to protect her children from the perpetrator. Women are uniformly scrutinized. They are thus, doubly victimized and somehow blamed, similar to what she endured from her partner.
With or without children, these circumstances tend to place a large part of the responsibility on the woman, not the perpetrator. First, she is told to leave him. There is an assumption being made about ownership rights to the premises and where the ‘power’ rests in the family. What if it is her home? Even if it weren’t, why uproot the woman and her children from their living space? Is that actually protective or punitive? Why aren’t we making the husband or partner, the perpetrator of violence, leave the home, with or without an arrest? Why aren’t protective orders issued that prevent his return, even if he does own that home? Isn’t that home just as much hers as it is his…especially if they are legally married? What is best for the children? We further handicap women by sending them to family, friends or a shelter. She is formally introduced to poverty, homelessness and all that comes with these circumstances.
If there are children, they can suffer just as much, if not more, than the mother. Perhaps not physically abused, although it may well be, children are certainly placed in harm’s way by being in the vicinity of abusive relationships. Vicarious or secondary trauma can result from exposure, and negatively impact mental health and wellness and future relationships. Where is the focus on the fathers?
It can’t be over-emphasized that the abusive behaviors and attitudes that men subject women to, are rarely because of something she did, said or didn’t do or say. The abuse, ultimately originates from within. It’s not about you; it’s all about him. It is important to hold all abusers accountable for stopping physical and other forms of abusive behavior and to avoid displacing responsibility for the man’s behavior onto his partner. In practice, it should be the alleged abuser who must be required to answer to his or her neglectful acts. It is that person who places the children at harm, and fails to protect them-even from himself- that systems should target. It is that automatic assumption[ an ‘immaculate perception’] of where the power lies which dictates that the abuser must answer questions about harming or protecting the children. We want to explore the abusive father’s capacity for positive parenting, and the involved agencies or the courts will want an expert opinion to ultimately inform custody and visitation determinations.
Even if the alleged abuser denies all violent behavior, has no criminal
record, and presents a prior “psychological evaluation” stating that he is not
physically abusive, he should be considered to be physically abusive. He should be
required to address these behaviors if the case record documents a clearly-defined and consistent pattern of behavior including coercive control and physical abuse. A psychological evaluation is not credible if it ignores that pattern which is also corroborated by sources such as police arrest reports and information provided by partners or children.
Agencies should shift strategic focus towards the perpetrator, by default. That is, case workers and specially trained police officers, who are designated to respond to these situations, should also be prepared to assess danger and the typology of this population, fully understanding the dynamics of abusive relationships. They need to be able to recognize the range of responses and the character traits of abusers. To help evaluate the relationship dynamics, certain key questions need to be asked. It’s not that the first responders are expected to diagnose mental health; they are to assess safety concerns, and elicit answers that will help in their crisis intervention strategies.
Crisis situations require rapid triage which may involve de-escalation and negotiation in order to stabilize, restore calm and reduce risk of harm. In 911 or other emergency calls involving reports of abuse, specific questions should be asked of the caller to make preliminary determinations. You want to know who is making the call, the tone of their voice, whether their words are being dictated by someone or free-flowing, the emotional expressions, intonations and the like. In my case, the call was ordered by my husband and the words were dictated by him, as well. A well-trained professional should have been able to pick those things out from even a two-minute conversation.
It is crucial that efforts be made to ensure that these men attend and complete appropriate intervention programs and receive substance abuse screening and treatment, if indicated. This will improve the chances for many men to achieve non-violence. However, domestic violence practitioners should be mindful that approximately one in five men in programs will continue the abuse even if they attend treatment. Therefore, monitoring abusers and supporting partners must remain a core practice even if men attend treatment. In addition, if men refuse to attend treatment or do not complete treatment, it should be understood that their likelihood of achieving nonviolence is lower and this should be taken into account in safety planning with victims of violence.
Uprooting and displacing mothers and their children, increases the likelihood of living life ‘on the run’, trying to stay safe and parent at the same time. With safety measures in place, women SHOULD be permitted to stay in their home[an informed choice], even while awaiting formal court proceedings. Collaboration with law enforcement, agencies can facilitate changing of locks, protective orders, and daily accountability to verify compliance can be incorporated into a new practice standard.
Blaming the victim[s] is counterproductive and does not prevent the abusive partner from going on to abuse someone else or continue to abuse the current partner. Equally protective, preventive and punitive, mandating that the abusive partner leave the premises seems more appropriate. Child protective services today along with law enforcement, after reports of domestic violence, will arrest and remove the alleged abuser from the home immediately-without sworn statements. Even if held until court proceedings, it provides at least a few days of peace for the rest of the family. So, in cases oF domestic violence, what about the fathers? How and when do we hold them accountable?