Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Doesn’t She Leave, Part I

“Why doesn’t she leave?” It’s a question that is asked of me on a daily basis. It would seem a very simple answer would suffice for such a simple question… but it isn’t so easy. One answer to this questions is: She does leave. We serve hundreds of women in our shelter every year that have left, plus there are thousands more in our outreach programs.

I often find myself answering that question with another question, “Why does he stay and continue to beat her?” But that’s not really an answer.

To ask “why doesn’t she leave?” puts the focus on the victim and blames her. It says “if you leave, the abuse will stop and all will be well.” I don’t think people mean to blame the victim when they ask that question, but that is what is happening.

To begin to understand the answer to this question, we have to know why the abuse is happening in the first place. Domestic violence is about power and control. When power and control is lost or diminished (such as when she leaves the relationship), then increased methods of control are employed. These methods are increases in violence, threats, and stalking, all done in order to get that control back.

There are many reasons why women will stay, but in my entries over the next 2 weeks, I will focus on just six of them.

Reason #1 – Fear

The first and foremost reason a woman will stay in a dangerous relationship is FEAR. Very logical, well grounded fear based on threats that have been made that he will kill her, he will kill her children, he will kill her family members or their beloved family pets if she tries to leave.

We have heard horror stories from women who have experienced these threats coming into reality as they have attempted to escape. The next time you hear about homicides in the news (and you will… on average, three women are killed in our country everyday by their abuser), listen and see if they say “ex-husband, ex-boyfriend or estranged partner”.

The most recent story can be found in our local news. The headline dated 11-19-09 reads:
"Jury convicts KC man of killing his baby son's mother". Justin Bennet (23) was convicted of first degree murder and armed criminal action for killing Keona Johnson by stabbing her more than 30 times. Keona did leave and she paid the ultimate price for leaving—her life—and her son is now left without his mother.

Many women leave and find themselves in more danger than when they were in the relationship. Sometimes it’s safer to stay and navigate the known danger, when leaving means navigating through the uncharted territory of increased threats and danger.

Women often tell us that at home at least they knew what to expect. They could read the warning signs and plan their actions based on those signs. When they are no longer in the home, they are in the dark and do not know how to plan for what is coming at them because they can’t see it.

Reason #2 - Stalking

Women who leave are at greater risk for being stalked. With the new technology that has come out in recent years, stalking of victims is more intense, easier to do and the fact that it is happening is easier to hide.

We have added technology to our safety planning with women. We make them aware of the possibilities of GPS devices having been planted in their cars, and of stalking technology on computers and in cell phones. The terror, trauma and danger that can result from stalking are tremendous and have major implications on how safe she feels, and how safe she really is.

Reason #3 - Economics
Sometimes it just comes down to money. I have talked to many women who have said, “I am faced with ‘do I stay and feed my children, or do I leave and have no way to care for them?’”

It saddens me to think that those are the choices women are faced with. This is even more prevalent in these very difficult economic times. Finding a job, paying rent, keeping food on the table, and keeping their children clothed are all very real issues that battered women face when they make the decision of whether to stay or to leave the relationship.

Next week (posting 12/3), I’ll conclude with three more reasons she doesn’t leave: children, emotions and love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rihanna Has Fame, But Her Story's the Same As Other Victims

I’m excited about the second installment of the From the Front Line blog. I had started to put my thoughts together for this blog when I learned that Rihanna was going to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer and I decided to watch the interview and go from there. (Watch Rihanna's interview with Diane Sawyer in its entirety:

I asked my 9 year old daughter, Chloe, to watch it with me. She and I have had many conversations about domestic violence in terms of what it is, why it happens and what I do on a daily basis. I have tried to instill in her the need for her to always have her own voice; that she is her own person and no one can take that away from her.

So we sat down as a family and watched and listened as Rihanna told her story. I listened as a mother and thought about how I will talk to my child about dating violence. I listened as a woman and felt so much empathy for this young, confused woman. I listened as an advocate who is trying everyday to help people end the violence in their lives. I had different emotions as I wore those many hats.

As a mother, I want my daughter to learn from Rihanna—to hear her struggles and how it wasn’t easy for her to come to realize that it wasn’t her fault. I want her to learn that no matter who you are, it can happen to you. I want her to realize that just because her mother runs a domestic violence agency, that doesn’t mean she won’t someday find herself in a situation that is abusive.

Wearing the hat of the CEO of Hope House, I was struck by how Rihanna’s story was the same story I have heard from the women who I have worked with for the last 17 years. Her story was a classic example of domestic violence:

1) She’d experienced and witnessed abuse as a child.

2) Her abuser witnessed domestic violence as a child, which put him at greater risk to one day abuse.

3) She felt guilty. She feared for his safety. She needed to make sure he would be OK. All which led her to go back to him.

4) She felt helpless, with no one to turn to for help.

5) She was in denial that anything like this had happened before, minimizing previous incidents as “just a shove”—not many shoves, not really abuse.

6) She felt shame that the attack had happened at all.

Rihanna’s story is the same as all of those who have been impacted by domestic violence. Despite her fame and her fortune and her thousands of fans, she was still alone; alone with her feelings of helplessness, shame, hurt, betrayal, and continued love for the man who caused it all.

My heart went out to Rihanna as I watched her. She is determined to move on, and to make a difference in the lives of young girls who look up to her; who see her as a role model. She wants to use her experience to make sure that it doesn’t happen to someone else.

I hope and pray that she and others who have experienced domestic violence continue to find the strength they need to put themselves first; to feel that they deserve a relationship of respect and equality, without violence; that their voices will be heard no matter what.

This is what drives me everyday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DV101 - Education and Awareness

Welcome to the first installment of “From the Front Line of Domestic Violence”. I’m MaryAnne Metheny and I’m the CEO of Hope House. Hope House is a not for profit agency that provides two safe, emergency shelters and comprehensive outreach services to those who have been impacted by domestic violence. We are in our 26th year of service to the community of Eastern Jackson County in the Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area.

I’ve been with Hope House for 17 years. I started here as one of the first Women’s Therapists, then became Shelter Director and worked my way up to becoming CEO in 2006. I came to Hope House because of my passion for working with women and children. I see my job as helping those who have lost their voice due to the violence regain their voice again.

The primary purpose of this blog is to EDUCATE - about domestic violence and about the programs at Hope House. But it’s also to EXPLAIN why our services are so desperately needed, and why we continue to ask for financial support from the community. The services we provide cost money, and through this blog, I hope to show you that even modest donations of time and money will result in changed lives… for families right here in the KC metro area.

So let’s start with the education piece. Ready for a little DV101? (Feel like you’re back in college?)

The first steps for the community in helping us break the cycle of domestic violence (DV) are awareness and acceptance of public responsibility. Awareness is not just knowing that violence exists, but knowing why it happens, how it happens and who it happens to.

The responsibility aspect is knowing what to do once you are aware and then acting on that knowledge. It means being able to see that DV is a community issue and not a “family problem” to be resolved in the home. It takes a whole community response to address this issue and it’s my hope that this blog will help to bring people together to address this complex and devastating issue that impacts so many in our communities.

It is my intent to share information, but to learn as well. What’s working? What isn’t working? What progress has been made? What surprises you about what we do or don’t do? What questions do you have? Where do we collectively go from here?

I look forward to this new journey of discovery and sharing the experience with you.

MaryAnne Metheny, MSW, LCSW
CEO of Hope House