Citizens' Voice is a platform for people-driven news and opinion. Be the opinion leader. Write and submit an 800-word op-ed with a one sentence bio and head shot.
Journalist Naomi Wolf offers some useful guidelines for writing an op-ed - Read More
by Drust Brennus-Isabel
Why does she stay?
This is a common question when it comes to domestic violence. You may believe that the answer usually lies in the victim's mentality—she is too weak or frightened or dependent to leave. But to really understand how hard it is for a victim to leave an abuser, just take a closer look at our laws.
Most people believe that beating up a spouse is called domestic violence and is against the law. Most don't know, in fact, that domestic violence is not actually illegal. The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence this way: "Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone."
National, regional, and state organizations on domestic violence agree with this definition. But the law does not.
In most states, the law limits the definition of domestic violence to criminal acts of violence, or to threats of physical injury and/or to stalking by an intimate person.
While "violence against women" is an issue that costs many lives and billions of dollars annually, "domestic violence" is actually a separate issue. Women are victims disproportionately of both kinds of abuse. But right now, there is often confusion between these two distinct categories, which creates a legal void. It makes us think that the work we're doing to reduce “violence against women” is the same as work against “domestic violence.”
But in reality, violent acts are only part of the pattern of destructive behaviors constituting “domestic violence”—and it is a much narrower category of abuse. The cultural and legal confusion between definitions of the narrow “violence against women” and the much broader category “domestic violence” leaves victims (both female and male) unprotected from “domestic violence” by legislative and judicial negligence. It even leads the court system to collude in perpetuating acts of “domestic violence.”
I am an example of how these two categories are not the same. I am a "survivor" of domestic violence. The perpetrator is my ex-husband. When I fled home with our children, I filed for divorce and sought relief through the county prosecutor's office. I was paired with an advocate and thought the court would help me protect my rights. I did not know that the court does not prosecute domestic violence as defined, only violence against women.
In fact, the court essentially partnered with my well-funded ex, who spent the next three years openly committing every act of domestic violence defined. He followed me; grabbed me; threatened my life; and told me repeatedly that I was going to miss our children.
He broke into my house.
He hired private investigators.
He hacked my email account.
He stole my personal journals and a manuscript.
He spent time at my workplace, after which I lost my job.
How did the court handle this? He was not arrested or even reprimanded for these acts. Rather, I was told by two magistrates, several attorneys, the Guardian ad Litem, and a police sergeant that if I didn't have X-rays of a broken jawbone, I'd better quiet down and, as the sergeant said, “stop being such a victim.” The Guardian threatened that he would make sure I’d lose shared custody if I brought up abuse again. Period.
With out X-rays, they said I lacked evidence that would convince them I deserved even a protection order. Why? Because our law clearly focuses on physical assault, and other acts of domestic violence are not included in the law. So even though the prosecutor’s office sent my ex a warning letter in lieu of my failed request for a protection order, that letter meant nothing to the police when he refused to leave my front porch one afternoon. They chatted with him on my lawn for 45 minutes and then came inside to scold me for calling.
Domestic violence is an enduring pattern. However, the court was not willing to hear about my ex’s violent history because the police report was from before our marriage and involved a different woman. And the break-in was difficult to prove because there was no evidence outside of the fact that the only stolen property was the evidence I had against him. Further, the private investigators that sat on my street for weeks didn’t constitute stalking because the court permits surveillance. The email messages he hacked were submitted into evidence by the court despite my objections, as were pages of my journals. And my complaints about the stolen journals and manuscript were dismissed by the court because we were still married when he took them. Apparently, that gave him the right. Finally, the court responded to my loss of employment by stating that it’s difficult to prove it had anything to do with him because it’s all hearsay. Were these issues considered as a pattern? No. The magistrate threw papers in the air when I brought it up. We concluded for the day.
Meanwhile, my ex thrived in court. He filed objections to every order, and he drained my accounts and assets with needless litigation. I was destroyed.
I am a successful, focused person, without a victim mentality. I spent my undergraduate years working on road crews and in construction so I could enter my married life with several hundred thousand in separate equity. By the end of my divorce, it was gone, my credit was ruined, and I was buried in debt.
This outcome was not due to a victim mentality but to the fact that the court became my battering ex’s greatest ally. Advisory councils and task forces around the nation will not keep the courts from wrecking victims until they separate “violence against women” from “domestic violence,” and openly consider the fact that domestic violence is not only legal, it’s supported.
Our judicial system aids batterers in destabilizing and controlling people who, like me, are strong, capable, and very clearly being deprived of their property, their liberty, and their right to the pursuit of happiness.
So why does she stay, anyway?
NOTE: "Drust Brennus-Isabel" is a pseudonym chosen to protect the identities of the writer and the writer's family members.
Drust Brennus-Isabel is a writer based in Ohio.