Breaking a cycle of violence
Domestic violence isn’t just blood and bruises. It’s also a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior.
It’s the husband who keeps track of the mileage on his wife’s car.
It’s abusive behavior such as telling someone they’re crazy, over-reactive, or mistaken.
It’s refusing to share information about the family’s budget or bank accounts, or preventing a spouse from getting or keeping a job.
It’s someone with a substance abuse problem who gets a partner hooked so he can control her supply and keep her dependant.
It’s a spouse who repeatedly threatens to take the children away.
It’s a threat to kill a beloved pet.
It’s forcing sex.
It’s a child or caregiver who steals medication from an elderly parent or refuses to take them to a doctor’s appointment.
ABOUT one in three adult women have experienced physical assault by an intimate partner, according to statistics provided by Donita Garner, child advocacy center coordinator of Hope Unlimited.
Garner and Michelle Meiwes, Youth Advocate Mentor program director, spoke about domestic and sexual violence at a Lunch and Learn event Friday at Allen County Regional Hospital. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; it’s a good time to talk about the different ways abuse happens and remind victims and their families and friends of the resources to help someone escape an abusive situation, Garner said.
“Everyone knows somebody who has experienced domestic violence,” Garner said. “Domestic violence crosses all ages and backgrounds, from wealthy families to poor. We want to make sure we have all the resources to address that.”
Hope Unlimited began in 1984 and provides a variety of services including an emergency shelter, crisis intervention, outreach services, and a child visitation and child advocacy center.
Staff and volunteers are trained to provide non-judgmental support. That isn’t always easy to do, Meiwes said in response to a question from an audience member who wanted to know how she could help a friend who refuses to leave an abusive partner.
“There are a lot of reasons people don’t leave or go back. It’s not my job to judge. I have no idea what they’ve been through. I don’t live in their head or their house,” she said. “All you can do is be there, be supportive and pretty much hope to goodness they get out and get away before something irreversible happens.”
“You’ve given her the resources,” Garner added.
It takes an average of seven attempts before a victim leaves her abuser for good, Garner said. It’s not unusual for Hope Unlimited staff to see someone come for help, go back to the abusive relationship and end up back at the shelter.
“We tell people not to get frustrated and disappointed,” Garner said. “Every time they come through the door, they’re getting a tool for their toolbox. They’re getting a plan, or a way to make money or hide money.
“I had a client who waited 10 years until the kids graduated from school. They’re waiting, but they’re finding ways to survive until they can walk out for good.”
Meiwes added: “They’re gaining information and they’re gaining courage.”
EDUCATION AND awareness have changed the perception about domestic violence, Garner and Meiwes said.
It’s a difficult subject to broach if you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, Garner said.
“You chalk it up to personalities and say, ‘That’s just how they are,’ without realizing they are manipulating and controlling someone,” she said. “Most people are uncomfortable intervening.”
Further complicating the issue, an abuser may be monitoring a victim’s phone, social media or vehicle. Garner suggests inviting a potential victim to join you for a car ride or shopping trip and to use the opportunity to ask open-ended questions such as, “You seem unhappy. Do you want to talk about it? I’ll listen and keep it between us.”
If she talks, listen and believe what she says. Acknowledge her courage and support her decisions. Provide information about a domestic violence agency, and volunteer to go with her. If she is in immediate danger, call the police.
If she doesn’t want to talk, understand she has her reasons and continue to be her friend.
“When we start believing domestic violence victims, we as a community can do something about it,” Garner said.
Efforts to partner with other community groups and law enforcement agencies have resulted in real change over the years, Garner said. Hope Unlimited has provided training to law enforcement officers to help them understand the nuances of abuse. An advocate works with officers as they meet victims.
“We have developed a much better working relationship with law enforcement throughout our counties,” Garner said. “As they learn more about how to deal with domestic violence, they become more empathetic and we see better outcomes for victims.”
Michelle Meiwes, left, and Donita Garner of Hope Unlimited explain the cycles of domestic violence as part of a Lunch and Learn series at Allen County Regional Hospital Friday. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS
THE SPECTRUM of domestic abuse includes abuse of children and the elderly, as well as those in romantic relationships.
Meiwes is leading a pilot program geared specifically to help children who have been exposed to violence. Hope Unlimited will use a mentoring program to help them recover from trauma and grow into healthy, productive adults. The program will be used as a model for the state and nation.
Elder abuse also has drawn more attention in recent years. It can take the form of financial abuse such as stealing money or neglect and medical abuse, which could mean stealing medication or not providing care. It also could be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse.
“They describe it as violence in later life,” Garner explained. “Not being able to take care of yourself provides an opportunity for people to take advantage.”
Hope Unlimited has seen an increase in elder abuse issues and, therefore, has made adjustments in its services. Their emergency shelter, for example, is handicap-accessible but adjustments were needed to better prepare for elderly victims.
Garner spoke of a situation where the shelter helped a woman who was being financially abused by her child. Staff helped her file a protection order against the child and helped her transition to a nursing care unit.
“We’re learning how to navigate and adapt to those situations,” Garner said.
IN 2018, Hope Unlimited sheltered 51 women, 20 children and one man.
Outreach services were provided to 322 women, 73 children and 14 men. Sexual assault advocacy was provided to 132 women, 107 children and 11 men.