Why didn t she just leave him?
People who are shocked by incidents of domestic violence ask that question all the time, said Michelle Clossick, executive director of the Cocoon Shelter in Wood County for battered women and children.
Why didn t she call police? Why didn t she ask her friends or family for help? Why didn t she do this or do that?
In reality, she she because 85 percent of domestic violence victims nationwide are female, statistics show is trying to stay safe by continually doing things that the rest of us don t have to think about, Ms. Clossick said.
It might be making sure there s always gas in the car, hiding a set of keys or some cash outside the house, keeping the cell phone charged, or arranging a signal with the neighbors or code word with the kids to let them know when you need help.
It can be knowing which rooms in the house to stay out of during a confrontation bathrooms with deadly hard surfaces, kitchens and garages where implements and tools can be used as weapons, basements that have only one way in and out.
Having a safety plan in this kind of situation can save lives. Safety planning is crucial, declared Lynn Jacquot, director of the YWCA Battered Women s Shelter in Toledo, which has helped develop safety plans for more than 1,100 women and children this year, including callers on the crisis line (419-241-7386 locally, toll-free 888-341-7386), walk-ins, shelter residents, and support groups.
How do you know if you need to create a comprehensive plan?
"If they are uncomfortable, if they feel unsafe and particularly if they're thinking about leaving, they need to reach out and do some safety planning," Ms. Jacquot stressed.
"Many of us in crisis don't respond well," she said, "so it's very important to have something worked out beforehand."
The safety planning process also can help victims of abuse come to terms with their situation. "Denial can be such a part of domestic violence," Ms. Jacquot said. "Going through and doing a safety plan can help a woman start thinking about what's going on."
Another benefit of planning ahead is to consider what to take with them if they decide to leave - not just clothing and medications but documents such as birth certificates, Social Security card, green card, work permit, passport, divorce papers, and health records, and personal things such as an address book and sentimental items.
For a victim, the solution isn't as simple as walking away from a violent relationship. Many don't leave because the batterer has threatened to kill them if they do. Ms. Jacquot said 75 percent of domestic violence killings of women occur when they're leaving or immediately afterward.
And many women don't want the relationship to end, noted Gabrielle Davis, director of the domestic violence clinic at the University of Toledo College of Law.
After all, that relationship starts when a woman falls in love with a man who is on his best behavior and treats her well in the beginning, noted Jeannine Park, a domestic violence advocate/consultant with Family Service of Northwest Ohio in collaboration with Lucas County Children Services. Later on, warning signs such as excessive jealousy or monitoring of her behavior may not seem abusive to her, so she stays in the relationship. "It's very easy to rationalize those behaviors," Ms. Park said.
She describes the "victimization process" as starting with the initial incidents of violence. The victim may feel disbelief and denial, may blame herself, be ashamed and embarrassed, and try to be a better partner in hopes that things will go back to the way they used to be.
As violence continues, according to Ms. Park, the victim becomes more afraid, may deny the severity of the situation, make excuses for the batterer, and begin to turn to others for help.
After years of abuse and life-threatening situations, the victim feels hopeless, worthless, and depressed, Ms. Park explained. She feels she has few options; she does whatever she thinks is necessary to be safe.
Ms. Park said some of the women she has worked with have returned to their abuser three or four times.
"A lot of it goes back to love," she said. Sometimes, "he's desperate to get her back so he'll tell her he's really going to change. They'll believe him. The other reason they go back is that he might say I'm going to hunt you down, or you'll never see your children again."
One of the psychological barriers to safety planning is the feeling that we should be safe with those we love, said Ms. Clossick of the Cocoon Shelter. She added that as a society we tend to fear the stranger in a dark alley, yet "the likelihood that someone is going to experience domestic violence is much greater than the likelihood of being mugged or raped by a stranger."
People who work in the domestic violence field recommend that anyone who is in an abusive relationship get individualized safety planning from a trained professional - someone at a shelter such as the Cocoon or the YWCA or an agency such as Adelante, for example. People who are in nonemergency situations can dial 2-1-1 for information about agencies that can help.
Treating the victim as the expert - because she knows best how her partner may react to any changes in her behavior - a counselor will help her identify her biggest concerns, and look at ways to deal with those concerns as well as the possible results of each option.
"It's going to be different for every woman," said Leslie Malkin, training and technical assistance program director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network in Columbus. The agency has developed a safety planning card with suggestions for a variety of scenarios, including a general safety plan, strategies for leaving, and precautions to take at home and in public.
The card folds into the size of a credit card - so it's easier to hide. "You don't want to leave anything around that he's going to find," Mrs. Malkin said.
For the same reason, some advocates who work with battered women are reluctant to publicize specific steps that victims can take to reduce their risks. The information is available from shelters, crisis phone lines, local social service centers, and statewide agencies such as the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. (If you go to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network online, however, a safety alert pops up: "Computer use can be monitored and it is impossible to completely clear all website footprints. If you are in danger, please use a safer computer that your abuser cannot access directly or remotely, or call ODVN at 800-934-9840 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233)."
Ms. Clossick said domestic violence victims have two kinds of risks to identify when they're doing safety planning. In one category are those that are presented by the spouse or partner - for example, whether weapons are involved, whether the abuse is physical or emotional, and so forth. In the second category are "life-generated risks," such as a disability or chronic illness that makes escape difficult, a home in a rural area that's distant from service agencies or neighbors, and a lack of financial resources.
"Safety planning is complicated because our lives are complicated," she said. A plan is a collection of strategies that change as circumstances change, and it's no sure way to avoid violence because the victim cannot control the behavior of the attacker.
"It's like driving a car: You can drive the speed limit, you can reduce your risk by following the rules, but someone can still hit you and injure or kill you in your car," Ms. Clossick pointed out.
But although safety planning offers no guarantees, she said, "I've watched women turn their lives around and reclaim their lives in a way they didn't think possible."
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org