OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
By: Christina Johns
When I started this column, I wrote that I wanted it to be a dialogue, not a monologue. I invited responses, ideas and questions. I was most gratified, therefore, to arrive home in Tallahassee and find an e-mail asking me to write about a particular subject of interest to a local reader.
The subject is one familiar to me - domestic violence. I taught the first course in Florida at the undergraduate level on Domestic Violence Law this past Spring. We had numerous guest speakers including the head of the local battered women's shelter, the head of the Governor's Task force on Domestic Violence, several survivors (one whom had had gasoline poured over her and been set on fire), the head of the Neighborhood Justice Center which practices mediation, a family court judge and other professionals in the field. I think I learned as much if not more than the students.
The reader's question involved the "economic violence" associated with the cycle of domestic violence. The reader noted that he had frequently encountered women whose husbands impoverished themselves legally, on paper, and left women and their children destitute after the divorce settlement. In addition, he said he had encountered situations in which the man later reclaimed the assets and lived a prosperous life while the woman barely survived. This is not an untypical scenario. This type of violence is rarely taken as seriously as it should be by the legal system.
Domestic violence is more than a series of isolated physical attacks. The goal of the batterer is to control every aspect of the victim's life. Physical violence, psychological abuse, and economic violence - are all intended to establish control and dominance.
While the relationship is ongoing, it is not uncommon for the batterer to control all the money, approve all purchases, steal what money the victim has, and spend money the victim has saved (often as a means of getting away from the batterer). Batterers also frequently intervene at the victim's job, making threatening and distracting telephone calls, or forcing the victim to leave the workplace. These repeated interruptions often result in the victim losing the job. Then, the victim is even more dependent on the batterer, and therefore more easily controlled.
When a victim's entire economic livelihood depends on the batterer, especially if there are children involved, the victim of domestic abuse is likely to endure a great deal just to keep the children minimally fed, sheltered and clothed. Also, the physical wounds, and the psychological abuse inflicted by the batterer make it difficult for the victim to feel capable of getting and holding another job.
As bad as this sounds, the most dangerous time for the victim in a battering relationship (in terms of all these forms of violence) is when s/he is trying to leave. This makes sense, because the main thing the batterer is after is control, and when the victim tries to leave, or makes it apparent that s/he is going to leave, the batterer experiences a loss of control. This is where the economic violence referred to by the reader comes in. .
Although there have been great strides, the legal system is still not a user friendly place for the battered. In some areas judges refuse to even take Domestic Violence training, considering it to compromise their objectivity in cases. So, economic violence is not usually understood to be part of the cycle of violence and control that the batterer is still, even during and after the divorce, continuing. The victim's concern with the financial aspects of the settlement is often seen as a manifestation of greed and vindictiveness, rather than an attempt to regain control and independence from the batterer.
With an aggressive lawyer, a victim can go back to court and try to challenge the initial divorce settlement, but that requires money. Also, going back to court involves contact with the batterer, which many victims just can't handle.
In asking around, I have received little information about services available for battered women in the Valley area, but I would very much like to hear about them so I can share the information.
Dr. Johns can be contacted at Lylajean@prodigy.net or through the Valley Times News.