Where can Domestic Violence victims go?
It is already extremely difficult for a person to leave an abusive relationship. Many of the reasons cited for not leaving are fear, normalizing the abuse, embarrassment, shame, low self-esteem, cultural/religious reasons, lack of money or resources, disability and feeling love for the partner, even though they are abusive.
Whatever the reasons for staying, it is almost always a difficult task packing up and leaving everything the person knows as a stable environment. Even though they are in an abusive situation, some do not have a work history, making it difficult to support themselves. Many times, the abuser prefers their victim to not work and be dependent on them.
What could possibly make it more difficult for a victim to leave their abuser? How about a lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic? One of the main elements that an abuser uses to manipulate his victim is isolation. Many abusers manipulate their victims into pushing away family members, typically saying things like “you can have friends and family, or you can have me.”
Often times, the isolation is not only emotional. It can be physical, as well. Some manipulators move their victims to isolated places and even use their young children as types of hostages – not letting the child leave with the victim or threatening harm to the child if the victim leaves. Many victims will keep themselves in harm’s way to protect their children.
It does not matter if the isolation is physical or emotional, it is magnified a million times by the pandemic lockdown. Many places that offer assistance are either closed or opened minimal hours.
The lockdown made the window for victims to find assistance leaving the abusive situation grow exceptionally smaller. Many times when a victim decides to call a crisis hotline for help, it is when the perpetrator has left the home. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people are stuck at home, leaving no opportunity for the victim to even attempt to open that proverbial window.
Shelley Battles-Reichle, the Executive Director of the Ada Family Crisis Center said in an interview that the rules for the shelter forced by the pandemic is not much different from the rigid rules demanded by the victim’s abuser.
“They came from one restrictive environment where a batterer was … controlling them,” Battles-Reichle said. “Unfortunately to keep everyone safe, we were implementing some policies that were similar.”
The sad part is oftentimes, if the victim cannot find a way to leave, their life is in danger. Add the inability for the abuser to leave an already tense situation, and the circumstance can turn from dire to deadly.
On September 1, James Webb from Dallas allegedly shot and killed his wife and two teenage sons. He told officers that he was “tired of their arguing,” and shot them because they were giving him a headache.
A woman named Elizabeth Vance in Willis, Texas was shot and killed on September 3 by her on again/off again husband. The victim’s sister, Kelly Rousch, said Vance tried ending the relationship with her husband, Austin Vance. His alleged response was shooting and killing her.
Tawny King, a woman in Oklahoma City was killed by her domestic partner on September 3. His name is not being released at this time. Unfortunately, countless times domestic violence turns deadly, and it is increasing along with the lockdown.
Sometimes, a victim is able to escape the situation, but desperation forces them to tuck their tail and go back to their abuser. Lisa – who does not want to give her last name due to safety reasons – was one of those women. She was caught in an endless cycle of abuse.
She would get the nerve to finally leave her abusive husband but find herself unable to make ends meet alone. She would end up accepting the many phone calls from her husband, and finally give in to his pleas for her to come home. Promising to change, she would reluctantly go back. For a week or two, things would be nice. Then, bam, out of nowhere, he would change back. Maybe she cooked sweet peas for dinner, instead of carrots. Maybe she cooked exactly what he asked her to cook. It would not matter something would trigger him and he would get violent. Always going one step further in hurting her than the time before.
Even though the terms natural disaster and luck do not belong in the same sentence, it is more than likely what saved Lisa’s life.
On August 24, 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall, destroying much of Lisa’s hometown. Previously to that, an evacuation order was mandated. Many people chose to stay, thinking the hurricane would not be a big one. Lisa’s husband was one of those, and she was content staying, as well.
Once Hurricane Laura upgraded from a Category 1 to a Category 4 hurricane in a span of a few hours, Lisa changed her mind. She requested that she and her husband evacuate and he refused. Fearing for her life in more ways than one, Lisa evacuated with a few friends.
The positive thing to the evacuation, was it just what Lisa needed to get out of her abusive relationship. She was able to think and contemplate things without him in her head. Then, she realized she can do it without him. She is currently trying to put her life back together with the help of her family and friends.
Kathy Manning, Executive Director of The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma, Inc., said even with the pandemic, they offer resources for victims of domestic violence.
The resources are as follows.
Emergency Shelter: Short-term emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking and their children in a safe, nurturing and trauma-informed environment with a wide array of supportive services. Alternative sheltering arrangements are made for male victims as needed.
24-Hour Crisis Intervention: Crisis intervention is immediately available, via FSSO crisis hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the immediate physical and emotional safety of victims. These unscheduled interventions respond to emergencies and provide crisis resolution to help stabilize conditions.
Counseling, Support and Advocacy: Education and support groups, individual counseling and crisis intervention are available for adult and child victims. Advocacy is offered to assist families with safety planning and referrals/linkage to community resources.
Sexual Assault Services: Services to victims of sexual assault are offered on-site and in the social service, legal, law enforcement or medical setting, and/or at any safe and appropriate site, as needed by the client. Accompaniment to (SANE) exams, advocacy, clothing, follow-up support and court advocacy are also offered. Services are a resource to the community by offering information, speakers, referrals and training.
Court Advocacy: Safety planning, Victim Protective Order (“VPO”) assistance, court support and referrals to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The Victim Advocate accompanies victims to court when appropriate.
Children's Services: FSSO Children’s Services offers a broad range of services to meet the unique needs of children impacted by domestic violence or sexual assault. Services available in this program are child-centered, trauma focused and include crisis intervention, age-appropriate individual counseling, advocacy, education and support groups, and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to address the effects of domestic violence and sexual assault on children. Parenting support in the context of domestic violence and trauma is also available. Services are offered for children who participate in FSSO’s residential and non-residential programs.
Outreach and Volunteer Program: Professional consultation, volunteer training and informational presentations on domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and available/needed resources are made to various groups, including schools, churches, social service agencies, medical personnel, law enforcement, businesses and community organizations to increase awareness and to identify the role community can play in eliminating domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
24-hour crisis line number 580-226-6424
Manning said that they had to adapt a few things for safety reasons.
“We are still providing services but had to adapt,” Manning said. “A lot of our services are provided virtually or by appointment only for non-residential services.”
“In shelter, we ask clients to keep essential appointments only and have a temperature check in as well as sanitation stations, a sanitizing regimen on the hour, social distancing and had to lessen shelter capacity to maintain social distancing. Additionally, everyone is wearing masks.”