I know personally two women who fled abusive partners the only way they thought possible, by literally leaving with what they and the children could collect and pack in the car in a couple of hours. They returned weeks or months later to the family home, with a police escort, only to be told by the abuser that there was nothing left of theirs to collect and the police say there is nothing they can do. They had to turn and walk away from precious family photos, childrens’ toys and furniture, clothing, legal records, jewelry, the mementos of a lifetime. All had to be abandoned forever or worse, used by their abuser as leverage in a never ending vendetta to inflict as much pain and control as possible over the one who had the audacity to protect her own life and the life of their children. A couple of thoughts are cutting through the anger I am feeling at the latest injustice, still fresh and personal:
1) I believe in the rule of law but sometimes the law is not just. Sociopaths are expert manipulators when it comes to getting what they want. They will play the system and the authorities just the way they played you. You would think they were freakin’ Captain America when somebody has something they want or when they think they can talk their way out of a jam – and Cerberus ( the three headed dog who guards the gates of hell in mythology) when they feel they no longer can control their victim and others through charm, lies or intimidation.
2) No wonder women and children feel trapped or return to abusive situations. Don’t judge too harshly until you have walked beside someone on that journey to freedom. If you are trying to help them, be prepared. You very likely will have your heart broken several times. You will lose sleep, question if you are doing the right thing. Your own life will be disrupted by panicked phone calls at all hours asking what to do – and then they will do the exact opposite of what you advised. Your stomach will be in knots. Can you imagine what it is like for them? Sometimes it takes years and several attempts. With each attempt and return the noose grows tighter. At the point when they are most frightened and vulnerable the abused must be calm, rational even calculating in order to survive and protect their children. Well meaning family may think the abused is listening to them and following advice only to realize there is another person in the room. He’s invisible to you and holding an invisible gun to her head.
3) If you know someone who you suspect is in a bad situation, counsel them to have copies of all important papers (social security cards, birth certificates, passports, insurance info, etc.) made and given to a trusted family member for safekeeping when things are calm. She will need it all when she relocates and enrolls the kids in school. And, no, he will not give her anything “for the kids”. He knows the best way to hurt her is to hurt the kids or make her look like an incompetent mother. They will be used. Have an escape plan so that there is a support group on call to ensure the family has everything the family needs when the time comes to leave. If the abuser has no respect for her or her possessions before she leaves, you can be sure he is not going to be generous after she leaves.
4) Work with an organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. They will help you negotiate the legal swamp and, more importantly, help her avoid mistakes that could severely hamper her later on. Trust them.
5) Most importantly, it’s only stuff. We live in a “stuffed” society. Households can be replaced through donations and charitable organizations in a few days. The life, health and future of the abused and the children depends on escape. The road ahead will be difficult, with a real need for sustained support not just for setting up a home from scratch, but for learning to parent effectively solo and moving through the grieving process. However, each step toward independence can restore dignity, cultivate strengths and restore family ties that had been undermined by the abusive relationship. It will be worth it and the benefits extend for generations to come.