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October 23, 2011

October: Say NO to domestic violence

Reuel S. Amdur

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October is Domestic Violence Month. Hardly anyone advocates such violence, but what is to be done about it?

When we become aware that someone we know is the victim of such violence, the immediate impulse is to encourage her to leave.  Such an approach is very likely to fail. Women in abusive relationships often lack self-esteem.  They are apt to see problems in a relationship as their fault.  (“I had it coming to me.”) They may see that it is their responsibility to make things work.  That frame of mind needs to be addressed.

The best way of dealing with the abuse is counseling, with a social worker or other trained counselor.  That encounter should be aimed at developing a sense of self-worth and an ability to examine the situation rationally, especially with regard to where the “blame” lies.  This kind of encounter is designed to enable her to decide what she needs to do–including leaving the relationship in many cases.

Of course, there are practical considerations that require attention. 

In the case of immediate physical danger or other reason that she has a need to get away, she may need help in getting to a shelter for women.  She may also need help in sorting out how she will survive on her own or with children.  Thus, social assistance becomes a possible resource, at least temporarily. 

Child care may also be an issue needing attention.  It has been my experience that, when there is a joint bank account, the man may empty it out, leaving her with nothing.  She should get there first.  If his situation is difficult, she can choose to leave something for him, but she needs to take what she needs.

Another aspect of domestic violence is the legal angle.  Assault is a crime.  A woman may want to charge the man, or someone else who witnesses the assault may report it to the police.  Punishment of the man does not necessarily resolve the matter, as many women go back to him after, often with his promise to change, a promise most often honored in the breach.  That is why counseling is important, to give the woman the capacity to make decisions as a person of worth and with an understanding of her options, someone not susceptible to being given a guilt trip.

Abused women often lack knowledge of their rights to financial redress.  Victims of violence can seek financial compensation from the province.  While the process is often slow, at the end of the day a woman can end up with thousands of dollars.  I have assisted women who have applied for Criminal Injuries Compensation, and they came out of the process with badly needed cash.  In Ontario, if a woman is on social assistance the money from a settlement will have no impact on her continued receipt of benefits.

When I have a client who has suffered abuse and who is seeking Criminal Injuries Compensation, I tell her about a situation I read about in a woman’s magazine.  A newlywed woman doctor was hit by her husband.  The next thing he knew, he found his things out on the front lawn.  Then I add, “No one has a right to hit you.”  My story is not in a counseling relationship but it is meant to reinforce feelings of worth.

There are group counseling programs to help abusers change their behavior.  Such programs may or may not serve to repair a broken relationship, but they may at least help to lessen the likelihood of a repeat in a future relationship.  A woman, who accepts a graduate of such a program back, if she has gained the necessary self-esteem, should set the limit of zero tolerance for repetition.  As noted earlier, abusive men regularly promise never to do it again–till the next time. 

The best way to deal with domestic abuses is to prevent it. 

One approach is to start in school.  The Fourth R program–R for relationships–promotes healthy relationships and avoidance of violence of all kinds.  And while the program encourages young people to get along with each other, changing their behavior patterns may carry over to adult life as well.

Well, some might ask, what about domestic violence by women against men?

While the difference in strength along with the cultural constraints on women makes such violence less prevalent, nevertheless there are instances where men are assaulted by their female partners.  Dealing with such violence would be much the same.  In the counseling relationship, the shame of being the victim of female violence would weigh heavily; as such a situation constitutes a threat to the man’s masculinity.

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