The Plan Begins…

I had a very interesting conversation today, one that I would like to share with you.

Today was the Domestic Violence Vigil at the Circuit Court on Harrison. This courthouse specilizes in domestic violence. The courthouse also houses various agencies providing resources for survivors of domestic violence.

While at the vigil, I was speaking to a woman who was there with an advocacy agency. As is want to happen at these functions, we were dicussing the struggles that the advocacy community faces; not only the usual trouble related to funding and staff, but the fundamental issues that we find in garnering understanding from those outside the advocacy community.

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Why are we still struggling against partner and sexual violence? Why, in 2012, is this still even an issue? It isn’t even strictly about women. Partner violence is violence, no matter the gender of the perpetrator. Those of us fighting for the survivors don’t differentiate between gender, race, class or creed. We simply see people that need help and we want to be there to help them.

So, why, I asked her, are we having such trouble convincing people to help us help survivors? Not only help, but stop judging. I came to this conclusion: in large part it is an issue of understanding.

Sexual assault and domestic violence can all happen (though not exclusively) in established relationships. What does this mean? Women who drop charges against their abusers, or refuse to prosecute their rapist, to the frustration of police and the court system, are often linked to the perpetrator, emotionally and psychologically.

Imagine if your partner of 2 months or 12 years suddenly became abusive, the feelings of confusion that would accompany this sudden change in behavior. What would you think: what happened to them at work, or school? What happened today to upset them? Did I do something?

That’s how abuse often starts in these relationships; slowly, with psychological abuse, then the alienation of family and friends. By the time the physical abuse begins, the survivor often feels like they have no one and nowhere to find help.

Think about how many times it took you to break up with the last person you dated. Was the decision easy? Were you married, financially dependent on them? Were children involved? What about pets? Ending a relationship is difficult, even when violence isn’t involved. Now, what if that person was threatening to hurt you, your child, or your dog? Take your money, tell everyone lies about you? Murder you?

The most dangerous part of a relationship that involves domestic violence is when the survivor decides to leave. This is something advocates tell them. They tell survivors because they want them to safety plan, so that a survivor knows when they are planning to leave, that this part, NOW, is when they are in the most danger.

When you put it into perspective you can’t really blame the survivor for struggling with the choice to leave.

This is why advocates are so important – they have not and can not be alienated by abusers. They don’t fall for the tricks and the lies. They are willing to wait while a survivor rebuilds their self-esteem and sense of worth, builds their safety plan and gets ready to leave, to run, and sometimes to hide.

That’s why advocates need our support. More than ever. And I have a plan. Are you willing to help me?

copyright 2012 Michelle Cahill

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 17:47:54

    The picture is from cookcountycourt.org. I don’t know why it didn’t post the credit.

    Reply

  2. Terence Quinn
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 11:54:00

    Sad to say, but if you’ve been around long enough, you only need to see a courthouse to know which it is. Kind of ironic: 555/DMVC is probably the nicest of the courthouses, but it’s also home to some of the depressing cases outside of 26th/Criminal Court.

    Reply

    • Michelle
      Oct 25, 2012 @ 14:08:48

      So true, and sadly not very effective. I am planning on doing an interview with some of the advocates that work around the scene. They need our help out here and I want to give them the chance to tell us what they need.

      Reply

      • Terence Quinn
        Oct 25, 2012 @ 15:17:46

        To be polite, the Courts are industrial-scale apathy zones. Almost none of the clerks/judges actually read the Orders of Protection, so a lot of crap gets through when it shouldn’t; no dates of birth, wrong addresses, children not protected, etc. It’s bad to say the least. Simply put: the advocates’ ranks need to be bolstered and they need to be trained in how to fill out these forms correctly so people will be fully protected right away. This would also help in reducing the pro se cases (where the plaintiff fills out their own case work), which are usually so shot to hell w/errors, it’d be funny if not so tragic/dangerous.

  3. Michelle
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 17:39:14

    I do know that advocates go through extensive training (I believe it is four months, in addition to their regular education) on the legal system. I also know advocates who have had to fill out paperwork for attorneys because they do not know how. (I was trained and know how to fill out the paperwork and I am a medical advocate.) It isn’t the advocates who need training, it’s the judges and lawyers. The advocate training is just fine, because WE understand how desperately important these orders are.

    It isn’t the advocates making the mistakes. Also, pro se cases are a result of the inability to fully staff the advocacy departments due to budgets. For every 10 clients in need there is only 1 advocate.

    DVCC needs to not be a training ground for green ASAs. The legal system needs to stop treating DV cases like traffic stops. These aren’t petty crimes.

    Reply

    • Terence Quinn
      Oct 25, 2012 @ 21:03:02

      Of course, none of that matters as long the Clerks and Judges can’t be bothered to actually read the orders and ensure there’s little/no bullshit. We’ve got dozens of OP’s here w/o date of birth on them, but they’ve been served in OPEN COURT BY THE JUDGE, and we still don’t get a dob. It starts and ends w/the Bench and the Court Clerks office. Until we hold them all accountable, it’s unfixable (btw- got your Judicial Reccomendations Checklist? More than a few in DMVC who shouldn’t be there are up this year >:) )

      Reply

  4. Michelle
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 01:09:17

    That’s so true. I don’t have my recommendations yet, sadly there is the fear that what we might get in there is far worse than who is sitting now. It’s as if these elected officials have forgotten that they hold a place that is based on their record of service. I think that it’s time we remind them.

    Reply

  5. Michelle
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 16:58:12

    Yes, post the information. I’d like to share it.

    Reply

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