Domestic violence is a dangerous and often deadly situation that destroys the foundations of relationships and families and plagues our communities as learned patterns of domestic violence are passed down from generation to generation. In my practice as a domestic attorney, I speak daily to people who are trying to escape from the effects of domestic violence.
Often times they feel trapped by their aggressor and feel that there is no hope for a better life or no hope for an escape. It is this exact fear that gives an abuser his or her power over the victim, and this power strengthens over time.
The relationship may not start out as an abusive one, but as time goes on and the victim’s confidence in themselves and their future begins to dwindle; an abuser’s true nature will often begin to emerge. As October is National Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, I have compiled the 5 most common mistakes I see in my practice that victims make in dealing with unstable relationships and domestic violence.
MISTAKE NUMBER 1- Victims ignore the early warning signs/red flags of abuse patterns or behaviors in their partner.
For a lot of people, dating and trying to find the right partner can be difficult, to say the least. Most human beings carry around emotional baggage and trauma that affects the way we live our lives, interact with the world and engage with romantic partners. However, when you begin dating someone, certain red flags should not be ignored.
I frequently hear clients tell me how charming their partners were at first, and immediately adorned them with overwhelming love and affection. And then almost out of nowhere their behavior started to change drastically. Suddenly they became controlling and extremely jealous and didn’t want the victims going out with family and friends.
They began isolating their partners and started to become hypercritical of their every move until the victims felt like they were walking on eggshells and felt like everything they did was wrong. And when the victims started to push back, the aggressors typically responded with threatening behavior until the victim backed down, and then, unfortunately, the cycle repeated itself.
These types of behaviors are warning signs of what is to become if you stay. Leave before it gets worse.
MISTAKE NUMBER 2- Victims wait too long to leave.
Not every abusive relationship begins abusive, and not every abuser set out with an evil plan to destroy another human being. But as relationships develop, communication patterns begin to emerge and if they are unhealthy patterns they turn into communication ruts that the couple cannot escape by themselves.
The longer the relationship endures, the deeper the ruts get, coupled with greater frustration, stronger anger, and lingering resentment until, in the end, all that is left are two strangers arguing at one another with neither person listening or caring for what the other is feeling or has to say.
And when anger and frustration replace the love and compassion that used to be in the relationship, physical and emotional abuse tends to take its place. Most of my clients tell me that they waited too long, and they wished they had gotten professional help or ended the relationship sooner.
MISTAKE NUMBER 3- Victims do not tell anyone about the abuse
Frequently abusers will isolate the victim and control their means of communication so it is very difficult to have private conversations or be able to get out of the house. The abuser will make the victim feel guilty for the abuse and make the victim think it’s their fault for the abuser’s actions.
The abuser makes the victim feel shame, and the victims tend to keep it all to themselves. This becomes problematic when the victim is trying to escape the situation and needs legal remedies. They don’t have people in their corner to back up their stories and it becomes a ‘he said vs. she said’ situation in a courtroom.
Typically the abusers will try to portray the victim as irrational, and because abusers are often very charming and have eroded the victim into a frantic mess, they alarmingly succeed in their endeavor to cover the abuse.
MISTAKE NUMBER 4- Victims fail to document the abuse.
I heard horrendous stories from my clients about physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. I will ask them what evidence they have detailing the abuse and more times than not, they do not have much physical evidence other than their stories. The victims never called the police, they didn’t take pictures or videos, and there are no witnesses.
Abusers operate best in the shadows and it takes very little light to expose their behaviors. However, because of the fear and the control they have over their victims, this evidence is often scarce. The court process often operates under the assumption that if someone is walking down the street and another person assaults you, most people call the police and there is evidence.
But domestic violence situations are far more complicated and the victims typically don’t want to call the police because they fear it would be worse for them if they did. If a victim is too scared to call the police, victims need to find a way to document the abuse. They should use computers at public libraries so their history can’t be tracked to look for apps or devices that can help them capture the abuse.
They should tell a trusted friend and send whatever information they gather to the trusted friend for safekeeping.
MISTAKE NUMBER 5- The victims don’t have a plan to leave.
I receive too many calls from victims that have just been severely beaten and managed to somehow escape with the children. These victims are on the run with no money, no place to go, no clothes or supplies, and are unprepared to fight the battle they will have to endure after they escape.
Often the victims find unsafe places to stay and are unprepared to take care of the children once they have escaped the violence. At this point, the abuser will usually do one of two things: play into the victim’s fears about being in an unsafe place and become very apologetic and try and coax the victim back promising it will never happen again, or they will go on the attack and use the children as leverage and call into question the victim’s mental stability and decision-making ability to properly care for children.
Either way, if the victim does not have a sustainable plan, they are faced with two very dangerous scenarios.
Relationships are a lot of hard work. Couples argue and fight all the time, but your relationships should not make you feel worthless and scared. If you are feeling these ways for any sustained period of time, get out and go find someone that you enjoy spending time with and who lifts you up.
If you find yourself trapped in a long-term abusive relationship, tell your friends. If someone assaults you, call the cops, or at least document what you can. And if you are in danger, make a plan to leave and prepare for your escape. There are people who can help and know-how to get you through the situation you are facing. There is hope.