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Escape Domestic Violence with a ‘Safety Plan’

The story is frightening and all too common: despite a restraining order, a man or woman stalks a partner, then commits murder in an extreme, violent confrontation.

But for every such catastrophe, there are thousands of other domestic situations in which non-fatal abuse or violence is routinely common. This is a serious problem throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In Canada, 25 percent of all reported violent crime involves family violence, and 70 percent of the victims are women or girls. U.S. data show that one in four American women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime, and 1.3 million women endure it each year. In both countries, most cases are never reported to police.

Domestic abuse is the effort of one person in an intimate relationship to dominate and control the other. If abuse includes physical attacks, it is called domestic violence. In either case, the purpose is to establish or maintain total control of the victim. Fear, guilt, shame, intimidation and isolation, along with physical violence, are key tactics in the abuser’s arsenal. Often, victims can be in denial. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) provides a list of questions people can answer to gain a more objective assessment of their own or a friend’s or relative’s situation.

Domestic violence and abuse occurs among all kinds of couples – heterosexual and same-sex partnerships as well as those of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and economic status. The children in an abusive or violent household are often severely affected, emotionally and psychologically, by what they see and hear, especially if the situation is on-going. These children may feel helpless to do anything about the situation and may fear for their own safety and that of the abused adult, often their mother.

Getting Out

Getting out of a violent or abusive situation can be very difficult, both emotionally and practically.

Awareness of the extent and danger of domestic violence has been slowly rising for decades, but it is still too often overlooked, excused or denied by family relatives, friends or neighbors who are in the best position to intervene and provide assistance to the victims.

Direct intervention can be dangerous as it may provoke the abuser. And involving the police and court system, while necessary and well-advised, is not always effective – as so many headline-grabbing assaults demonstrate (about half of all court protection orders are violated). Commonly, the most effective intervention involves discreet efforts to help victims recognize and escape their situations. The NDVH offers guidance on creation of a Safety Plan that addresses:

  • Personal safety with an abuser
  • Getting ready to leave
  • General guidelines for leaving an abusive relationship
  • What to do after leaving an abusive relationship

A key part of the Safety Plan is guidance on electronic communication. Inevitably, to keep their victims isolated and without access to help, abusers seek to prevent victims from using computers, email and social media. Victims need to be aware that their abusers may also use technology in efforts to track down and confront them when they leave. Today, concerns with technology are even more heightened with the increasingly common use of social media.

To address these concerns, Facebook (FB) and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) published Privacy and Safety on Facebook – a Guide for Survivors of Abuse. The guide provides a detailed roadmap for adjusting FB settings and managing friends. Explaining the need for the guide, the NNEDV writes, “Privacy and safety go hand in hand for survivors. The most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when they are preparing to leave or have left an abusive partner. It is critical that survivors have the information that they need to navigate their lives safely and, in today’s digital age, a significant part of our lives are online. Telling victims to go offline to be safe is not only unacceptable, it further isolates them from people who love them. Survivors shouldn’t have to live their lives avoiding every possible situation that the abusive person could misuse.”

However, other commentators warn that even with a Facebook guide, it is easy for victims or others in online social networks to inadvertently expose their whereabouts. As one critic explains, “Friends who have less motivation to lock down everything may post an announcement of an event that, in effect, announces the location of a victim. And when victims’ comments on friends’ posts are made visible, this too can be used to glean information. What victims need — more than anything — is not to be able to be found, online or offline.”

With so many violent confrontations and fatalities, no one should doubt the seriousness of a domestic violence situation. If they are recognized and accepted, however, warning signs provide advance notice and time to make escape plans in most situations. Men and women in such situations need strong support, especially, from family and friends to take strong, decisive action. If you are in danger or know someone who is, contact The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. If your LIUNA health and welfare fund provides services through a Membership Assistance Program (MAP), you may also find help through that program.

[Steve Clark]

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