I’m using my voice as an author and a parent to continue conversations that often start because of a news report. Without a Voice, a novel set in the 1840s, tells the story of Sarah, a young wife leaving domestic violence. She travels across three states with her young daughters as they learn about their own strengths and abilities, and as they discover a new life with family and friends. I encourage you to use some of the thoughts in this book to start or continue conversations concerning domestic violence in our communities.
Who are the people affected by domestic abuse?
We are …
- Musicians and Videographers
- Teachers and Parents
- Writers and Artists
- Executives and Reporters
- Retail Employees
- Accountants and Chefs
- Among many other titles …
We are from…
- Small towns
- Large cities
- From Collierville and Byhalia and Chicago and L.A. and Paducah and Jackson
- From Texas and Wyoming and Vermont and D.C.
- From the middle class, the working class and the wealthy
- From universities where we earned our master’s degrees
- And from colleges where we got a two-year degree…
- And from high schools where we barely got by…
Our families look a lot like yours with…
- With kids
- Or now empty nesters
- With 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths
- With a two-bedroom fixer-upper
- In the suburbs
- Or downtown
- With a garage
- Or on the bus route
- Or in a biking community…
Our faith shapes us … We are …
- Christian, Jews, Muslims…
- The person who walks in to worship weekly
- The person who hasn’t been in a while
- The person you know well
- The person who just says hello and walks on
- The person you prayed with or prayed for
- The person who leads worship
- Or teaches a class
- Or reads the Scripture
But we face abuse…daily, weekly, whenever our abuser lashes out at us…
We stay because…
We are scared…
We are weary…
We don’t have access to any resources…
We can’t afford a lawyer…
We wonder what you will think of us…
We believe the lies…
We don’t have a place to live…
Our abuser has befriended our family and friends…you like him…
Our church expects me to carry this cross…
My children will have a broken home…
My abuser controls the money and the car and the house…
My abuser knows where I am every minute of every day….
I think it’s my fault…If I was a better person…
You tell me all couples fight…
My abusers apologizes…
I don’t know how to leave…
CAN YOU HEAR US?
Will you believe us?
Will you help us find safe places to tell our stories?
Will you listen without judgement?
Will you locate and support community resources for victims of domestic violence?
Will you keep brochures in your church or your office or your community center?
Will you stand by us as we journey through courts and through applications and relocations, as we journey to safety and healing?
We you tell us we are strong enough and wise enough and courageous enough to do what is necessary to be free from abuse?
….the court process can be lengthy and challenging…
…our abusers are controlling and don’t want to lose control…
…our abusers may lie, even in court…
…our attorneys may not understand domestic abuse…
…judges may not listen at times…
Our abusers may …
- Manipulate our children
- Steal our resources
- Draw out the process so we run out of funds
- Manipulate family and friends
- Lie about everything
- Apologize and beg for forgiveness
- Bring gifts and flowers
- Claim a need for mercy due to an illness or condition
- Blame everyone else for the problem
How can families and friends become more aware of what domestic abuse looks like and what steps can be taken to help a victim leave the abuse? Check local resources to see what may already be available in your community. Find a local support group. Also tap into national resources.
Churches and nonprofit groups—do your part. Post small signs in bathrooms (beside sinks or on the back of stall doors) to let people know that help is available for victims of any type of abuse. Post numbers of local agencies that can provide help or information. If those agencies have small brochures, keep them handy with your other information on grief, depression, etc.
Be a voice to end abuse!
To the daughter of Mary (a blogger whose post is being passed around):
Your mother wrote that when you grow up, she has a lot to teach you. I’m glad that she cares about you and wants the best for you. I have two daughters, and I love them very much, too.
Your mother wrote that she didn’t march for you because there was no need to–that everything is fine for women in the United States. Her quote was, “I’m writing this letter to tell you that what some people are yelling very loudly today (and will continue to yell very loudly for years to come) are lies.”
Oh, Sweet Girl, I wish that was true. I wish you and my daughters both lived in a wonderful world with no pain, no abuse, no harassment, no rapes. She is right about some things in her post–men can be abused, too, especially young boys. But the march was about stopping all abuse and bringing abuse into the light so we can work to end it together. None of us want anyone to be abused, but if we don’t talk about it, how will we end it?
But here’s what someone besides your mother will have to teach you. If you or your friends are ever raped on a college campus, you as a woman will find justice hard to come by if things stay as they are right now, Your mother would know that if she friended young rape victims or just listened to their stories that have been proven true.
Here are some stats:
11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).
Among graduate and professional students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
4.2% of students have experienced stalking since entering college.
Here are some links to articles that show that women on campuses struggle to find justice:
There are many others sources you can find. Until both men and women can be safe on our campuses, all of us must speak out. It’s the just, loving thing to do.
Also, let’s talk about domestic abuse against both men and women. It’s time we bring reality into the light. I can tell you my story if you want to know it, but let me just say that I fought the legal system for 11 years. As a woman, I was told over and over again that his wishes mattered more than my rights. I raised my daughters to understand that the Circuit Court system needed to be revised to hear the voices of all people, (A male judge asked me once when my abuser was $96,000 behind on child support: “His lawyer is a nice guy. Why don’y you just make a deal with them and let’s end this?” It’s all in the court record–very provable.)
Maybe your mother will take the time to volunteer at a rape crisis center or get to know women struggling to leave domestic abuse. Maybe she will get to know impoverished children whose mother struggles to get them fed and cared for. Maybe your mother will have lunch with a survivor of traumatic abuse and hear her story.
It’s easy to say, “My life is good so people are crazy if their life isn’t good.” It’s harder to see that Jesus understood. He walked with the outcasts, not with the privileged. Jesus believed and cared about and healed the bleeding woman, the woman at the well, the blind beggar, the lepers…God put their stories in Holy Scripture.
Read the Bible yourself and see that God tells us to feed the hungry, be a voice to the hurting, love the outcasts. To one wealthy questioner, He answered: Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21).
Please honor your mother. She is your mother. But hear the voices of those she is calling a liar. Get to know people and you will see what God sees–the tears of His people, the scared rape victims, to beaten wives and children (and beaten men).
You blog, too, one day, but use your voice to end suffering. When we listen, we grow in our understanding of the lives of others and the realities in this world that we may have never experienced. When I read social media posts, I see the pain that so many people experience when their stories aren’t heard. People try to tell their stories so we can try to understand what it’s like for them as cancer patients, as people with special needs, as people who grieve over a loss, as people who face hate or violence of all types, as people who struggle with depression or addictions or pain of so many types.
This month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I want to write to tell you a few facts that many people don’t know. Most people wonder why victims struggle so much trying to leave abuse. Finances play a huge role in a person’s ability to move on from domestic abuse and truly survive and raise children. Here’s what I would like for you to know:
Only 41 percent of single mothers receive the child support they are owed! Only 41 percent according to the Pew Research Center. Judges, courts, legal system…why is this true? Please tell me we can do better than this and reform our system, fighting for people who don’t have the resources to fight for their own rights.
According to a Huffington Post 2015 article, the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the number of casualties lost during war.
Women are held captive in domestic abuse through physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse or a combination of all three.
Relating to financial abuse, Ludy Green (in her book Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom) talks about the overwhelming power of financial abuse. Part of that continues through attempting to get child support.
Here’s one woman’s documented journey through trying to get child support:
Upon the divorce, this woman was awarded custody and child support of a set amount per month for two children who both had special medical needs. Her domestic abuser (DA) was to also pay half of their medical expenses and for their dental insurance. The dental insurance never happened, so she added them on hers. Half of the medical expenses never happened. Since she was the one taking them in and signing them in for medical appointments, the doctors and medical technicians loaded all of the debt onto her since she brought them in and signed the form saying she understood they had to be paid if insurance did not cover the cost. So she took on medical debt.
The child support amount was only paid for a month or two—would have to look at her court records to be exact, but it soon stopped.
So, she had to pay a lawyer in 2005 to try to recover child support. She scraped together money and paid a large hourly fee and the court filing cost. She was awarded on paper several thousand dollars for back support, but on paper only because Circuit Court in her state does not automatically build in a way for collections. It is just assumed the defendant will pay. He didn’t even show up for court, much less pay. But technically she won quite a bit on paper. She didn’t know she had to file to request garnishment each and every time he switched jobs due to quitting or being fired. How would she have known that and why should she pay a fee to request what is legally owed for child support—to take care of children? And why should she have to track him and his jobs? You have access to his social security number—in five minutes you could track it and find him if you, as the court, chose to.
Now remember, retainer fees for lawyers can range between $2500 and $7500. Hourly fees can run between $250 and $500 per hour. Picking a cheaper attorney, however, can be costly, because if the attorney is inexperienced in handling abusers, the DA (domestic abuser) can come across as a great person to the attorney, and the attorney may go easy on the abuser or may not know how to get to the truth through the manipulation.
Through the years, she threatened to go back to court and would get small amounts paid, but never what was supposed to be paid and never on any regular schedule. She would often be forced to come pick it up. Mostly, nothing was paid. She never had the funds to pursue court action.
This woman saved up again the minimum needed to legally file, and eleven years later she is still in court. She was awarded on paper almost $100,000. Wow! But again, the Circuit Court judges in her state don’t automatically supply any means for that to actually be collected. To have wages garnished, she had to come up with lawyer fees again and court costs to file. Then, a DA can drag it out with modification requests and stalling tactics to run up the other party’s legal bill with the lawyer. The lawyer charges every time he/she has to talk to the opposing attorney or go to court or read material sent. It’s easy for a DA to run up the legal fees for the original victim of abuse, keeping them financially in debt and still not receiving child support owed. It happens daily.
A person has to pay court costs to get a contempt of court charge for failure to pay child support.
Things actually heard by women in court from the referees or judges:
“You don’t really want him to go to jail, do you?”
“Let’s wait and hear what he has to say about why he isn’t in court. Let’s just see what happens.” (But the Circuit Court Judge never forced this DA to come to court—he just never had a consequence—no warrant—no forced follow up).
“Since you are trying to file without a lawyer this time, why don’t you just make a deal with his lawyer? His lawyer is a really nice guy and a reputable member of the bar.”
Since his last contempt of court thirteen months prior, this woman’s abuser has paid zero child support. She has paid attorney and court filing fees to change that. But he asks for continuances and modifications which stall out the process and allow him to continue to deny his children access to funds that they desperately need.
What are we doing to help children get the child support they deserve? What are we doing to stop domestic abusers from continuing their financial abuse? When will we listen? When will we actively work to stop the abuse the endangers children and kills more women than our wars?
Community groups/churches/nonprofit organizations need to have funds established to help provide financial support to pay legal fees for people leaving domestic abuse and people seeking child support enforcement. There’s no excuse for child support to not be received due to an inability to pay the legal fees.
Courts need to build in an automatic enforcement clause with every child support case awarded.
Voters need to bring up these topics in the public forums and question judges about options.
Listen. Please, please, listen. Stop blaming the victims and making excuses. Listen. Hear. Make a difference.