If you are Asking Why a Survivor Stays, you are Asking the Wrong Question

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

The following is a blog post from VPLC’s domestic and sexual violence attorney, Susheela Varky:

I was in the doctor’s office yesterday, about to be prepped for a routine procedure. The two nurses who just verified my information and injected an IV into my arm went back to the nurse’s station. “He punched her, and she went right down! One punch!” Then, (sadly) as expected, “But she married him afterwards! Why didn’t she just leave?” I wanted to yell out, “Hey! I know you just treated me with the utmost professionalism and courtesy, but stop spewing that nonsense!”

Later, I saw a Facebook posting from my friend and colleague, Stacie Vecchietti, Community Organizing Manager at Safe Harbor (a local domestic and sexual violence program in Henrico). I wish I could have recited it to the nurses as they wheeled me into the operating room: “Please. Please. Please. Stop asking why a survivor stays. Start asking why a person acts in an abusive way. Stop posting about sensationalized cases that involve real human beings. Start reaching out to local sexual/intimate partner violence programs to see how you can be part of a solution. Stop oversimplifying a complicated personal and cultural dynamic. Start having complex conversations in your communities about how we are all impacted by interpersonal violence. Stop talking. Start listening.”

Why are we more comfortable blaming the victim for being beaten than holding abusers accountable? We don’t do that with other victims of crime, especially violent crime. But if a woman remains with her abuser after he’s hurt her, it’s her fault; she somehow deserves the abuse.

Domestic violence is pervasive, doesn’t just happen to poor people or celebrities, is more likely to happen when a victim attempts to leave her abuser and is a multilayered issue. I would add to Stacie’s comments regarding the “complicated personal and cultural dynamic” that, while women are sometimes abusive to men and same-sex abusers are sometimes abusive to their same-sex partners, domestic violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women.

As a legal aid lawyer, I would ask my peers in the private sector to consider representing ONE domestic violence victim in a custody matter. I know these cases take a lot of time. I understand how frustrating they can be. But this is one EXTREMELY helpful way for you, a member of the Bar, to use your considerable skills to contribute to breaking the cycle of domestic violence for the next generation and being part of that very nuanced and complicated solution Stacie, I and all of us want.

VPLC’s Legal Advocacy Manual is a handbook that provides victim advocates with a comprehensive guide for helping domestic and sexual violence victims through the process of obtaining a protective order.

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