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The Problem of Domestic Violence

I'd rather have loved and lost

“Cases of Hope Solo, Ray Rice spotlight domestic violence stereotypes” reads the headline. “Domestic Violence and Celebrities -It Affects All of Us” reads another headline. Domestic violence is not just a problem in the NFL or for high profile celebrities. The problem of domestic violence problem is societal. If you are a victim of domestic violence, however, there is help.

A silver lining found in the recent publicity of domestic violence in the NFL and other high profile cases is the public focus on domestic violence.  As family law practitioners, we see and deal with the reality of domestic violence on a continuing basis.  The picture we often see, though, is not the black eye, the broken arm or scratch marks that result from a recent encounter.  We see the resigned face of  people who are no longer willing to be the victim. We see hope in the darkness.

But many victims of domestic abuse do not seek help or get help, sometimes until it is too late.

This is not a blog post to discuss why abuse victims remain with their abusers or what constitutes child abuse over discipline.  That we will leave for another occasion.   The purpose and goal of this blog post is to focus more pointedly on the domestic violence beast that has been chased out of the shadows by the recent controversies in the NFL and to highlight the many avenues for escape from its clutches..

Domestic violence takes many shapes and is not limited to physical abuse. The perpetrators of domestic violence are not just men. The perpetrators are not just one person in the relationship; sometimes both people in a relationship resort to violence when pressures rise too high. Domestic violence is not limited to certain neighborhoods; it is everywhere, in every neighborhood, in every strata of society: straight and gay, rich and poor educated and uneducated, black and white, domestic violence exists largely unseen in every place where people live.

To make matters more complicated, the line between victims and abusers can sometimes be blurred. (See The Line between Victims and Abusers published in Psychology Today). Abusers sometimes see themselves as victims, and victims sometimes to do not recognize that they are victims. Victims also often become abusers themselves. (See Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse: Links between Being a Victim and Becoming a Perpetrator, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry). This phenomenon is true of all kinds of abuse because people tend to relate to other people as adults based on behavior they learned as a child.

The recent publicity in the NFL highlights the fact that domestic violence, unfortunately, is a significant issues in our society, and the issue is too often ignored, pushed aside and unseen. Domestic violence is considered too awkward and uncomfortable to discuss in polite circles.  It happens largely in the privacy of the home where people are too polite and too reticent to intrude.  Victims are largely left to suffer silently in the privacy of those same homes.

Many of the people we see are not abused physically, but they are nonetheless victims of abuse through emotional, financial and other means.  This abuse is more subtle, and the victims often do not even realize they are suffering from abuse.  This type of abuse, however, can be just as destructive, if not more so, than physical abuse.

Emotional abuse takes many forms, but often involves an extraordinary amount of control by one person over another person’s movements, communications and feelings of self-worth.  An example is the perpetrator who requires the spouse to check in with him or her at regular times so they know where the spouse is and who they are with.   Extraordinary jealousy, suspicion and a desire for control are all signs of possible abuse.  Repeated, angry and continuing negative, demeaning, belittling, caustic remarks take their toll and leave deeper scars than physical hurt.

Finances are another area where an abusive relationship can be seen but is hard to identify because there are no outward signs.  A controlling partner or spouse can keep the other partner/spouse on a short leash by withholding access to marital funds.  In one extreme example that we saw years ago in our office, a husband punched a hole in his wife’s gas tank to prevent her from traveling far in her car.

Although abuse and domestic violence takes many forms, it is characterized by one person controlling and exerting his or her will over another person to the detriment of the other person. Many people are guilty of such behavior at times, but behavior arises to the level of domestic violence or abuse when damage is done, physically or emotionally and a pattern emerges in which one spouse or partner is the abuser and the other is the victim.

Fortunately, many resources available for victims people who have been victimized by domestic violence right here in the Fox Valley area.  Mutual Ground assists people in the Aurora and southern Kane County area.  The Community Crisis Center is available for people in Elgin and northern Kane County.  Each organization operates a 24 hour hotline. Mutual Ground’s number is 630-897-0080, and the Community Crisis Center’s number is 847-697-2380.  If danger is immediate, a victim should call 911 of course.

Many local parishes and churches also have established ministries for victims of domestic violence. They provide support, resources and other help. Victims need to realize that you are not alone. Others have gone through what you are experiencing, and there is help. Professional counselors are available through these local organizations, churches and in private practice to help domestic violence victims.

Legal remedies are also available to people who have been on the wrong side of domestic violence or abuse. An Order of Protection can protect both adults and their children from domestic violence and abuse in the home.  In Kane County, and many surrounding counties, there are people at the courthouses available to assist victims in obtaining an emergency Order of Protection.  Private attorneys can also help people obtain an emergency order of protection and other orders that will protect against domestic violence and abuse.

Organizations like Prairie State Legal Services and Administer Justice provide pro bono services or link people with an attorney who will provide pro bono or low cost services to people who can afford not legal services on their own.  In a divorce situation, when one spouse controls all the money, the law allows the spouse without access to the marital funds to have the legal fees paid by the spouse that controls the marital funds.

Help is also available for people who have issues with anger, jealousy and are prone to react with violence in stressful situations. As already stated, victims often become abusers themselves. Many of the same organizations mentioned in this article also provide services for people who are prone acting in violent in abusive ways. (For a list of local counselors, see Psychology Today therapists online).

Domestic violence and abuse is a societal problem that is prevalent in all segments of society right in our own communities, but it largely remains hidden from view. If anything good is to come from the recent headlines involving the NFL, celebrities and other high profiles cases, we need to bring the topic out into the light. People need to know that help is available.  If you know a victim of domestic violence/abuse, encourage and assist them to seek help. If you see abusive tendencies in yourself, get help before it is too late. There are many resources available, including the ones referenced in this article, and many more.

Roman J. Seckel
Drendel & Jannsons Law Group
111 Flinn Street
Batavia, IL 60510
[email protected]