‘Why does she stay’; Advocates tackle the stigma faced by survivors
“Rural survivors face all kinds of different barriers than urban survivors,” said rural activist Miranda Armstead.
Dynamics of domestic violence
Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS), said it was difficult for survivors to leave their homes and familiar places, especially with children.
Survivors may need to find a new job in a new city to avoid being stalked by an abusive partner. Children may need to change school districts. Survivors may be without transportation. They may lose access to finances, health care records, and other personal records and items they may have left behind.
“Sometimes people run around with the clothes on their backs,” Jones-Kelley said. “It feels like going underground.”
Then there are challenges with finances and childcare.
“If I’m the sole provider of the family’s money and I’m arrested, who’s going to pay the rent, who’s going to pay the bills, who’s going to put food on the table, etc.,” Jones said. “On the other hand, if my partner is the one who works and I’m the only childcare provider, who’s going to watch the kids if I have to go to jail?”
For survivors in violent situations, Jones-Kelley said they need to have a plan when it comes to leaving the abusive relationship, especially if children are involved.
Law enforcement has also worked with local advocacy groups to help survivors get faster access to the resources they need. By doing so, law enforcement officers better understand the survivor’s perspective.
“Working with advocacy has been a real eye-opener for me. I know a lot of law enforcement people see this as an adversarial system, but it’s so beneficial for us because at the end of the day, this lawyer bridges the gap between us and the people we serve” , said Sgt. Denise Jones, who is part of the intimate partner violence unit at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
“On the other hand, you just have to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and understand why people can’t or won’t or don’t leave the situation immediately, or even within an extended period of time. There are so many dynamics behind domestic violence, and if people understood that a bit more, I think they would be less critical of people who don’t choose or can’t or won’t leave on the first incident.”
What can friends and family do?
For family members and friends watching a loved one go through a domestic violence situation, advocates recommend continuing to be present with those going through the situation to provide support to the survivor.
“Domestic violence is really about power and control,” Keiffer said. “Part of that power and control is isolating our survivors from their family and friends.”
Keiffer advised if you suspect someone is in a domestic violence situation, you don’t want to ask, “Are you a victim of domestic violence?” Instead, Keiffer recommended people ask, “Do you feel safe at home?” »
“You have to ask them several times to feel safe enough to confide, but you want to keep asking and keep supporting,” Keiffer said.
Social and cultural barriers may also exist for survivors trying to leave a marriage if their families are not supportive of ending or separating the marriage. When it comes to breaking these traditional values, it helps if the family offers survivors the grace to end a relationship, Jones-Kelley said.
Believing in survivors is also an important way to show support, as Jones-Kelley described the damage it does to survivors when they have the courage to tell their story and no one believes them or even blames them for the situation.
“When friends don’t believe, but even more so when authorities don’t believe you…it just pushes that abused person back into the shadows,” Jones-Kelley said.
Jones-Kelley, who is also a survivor of domestic violence, encouraged individuals to change their perspective on survivors.
“It’s very real to me, and I feel lucky to have had a support system that carried me forward on my own journey,” said Jones-Kelley, who experienced domestic violence when she was in his twenties. “I don’t often share my story because of the judgment. People start looking at you with pity more than saying, “Look at the strength you have.”
“That’s what happens to a lot of our women. We look at them with pity in relation to the strengths they clearly had to overcome such a difficult situation,” Jones-Kelley said. “As a society, we need to start looking at our survivors from the perspective of strength, not weakness. Because if we haven’t walked in these shoes, we have no idea how much strength they use to overcome their journey.