Just how bad can it get?

In a very few months I have seen two news stories involving battered women who refused to press charges or give a statement against their abuser. Both incidents ended with the report of at least one death. In both circumstances, the law enforcement officer asking the victim if she cared to file a report or make a statement made his inquiry while the victim was in the presence of the attacker. In one incident a police officer was one of the fatalities. In the other, the body of the victim who refused to answer questions as her attacker stood a few feet away was found in a nearby wooded area. She had told the investigating officer, “He does this all the time.” Her body was found 2-3 weeks after a neighbor had called and asked for officers to investigate domestic violence going on next door. The victim had confided in her, asking her to call the police if she ever heard loud noises. This neighbor shared how she had personally witnessed the abuser threatening the victim with, “If the cops come, I’ll kill you.”

Do we dare try to shift the responsibility onto the victim for refusing to speak out, press charges or give a sworn statement? My God, tell me that is not what it has come to. It’s time to get real, folks. Who, in their right mind, could expect a victim to calmly sit down, recall the sordid details of the battering she just experienced without thinking about the pair of eyes glaring at her perhaps only yards away, sending the message, “Open your mouth and I will kill you.”

How many times a day does some victim confide in a neighbor, friend, family member, social worker or even investigating officer that she is fearful of deadly harm? It is far too common. Will she repeat herself in front of the perpetrator? Would you? When domestic violence escalates to such levels as this, the foremost focus of the victim is purely, “Stay alive.” She is consumed with doing whatever is necessary to stay alive. It may also become a matter of keeping your children safe and alive, as well.

Once the choice is made to report, first take time to develop a safety plan and safety code or word. Lives could depend upon it. And think it through – Do I dare confront my abuser?

So, we still have that all too often asked question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Well, hopefully this gives you a bit of an answer – and something to think about. If you know someone who is being victimized by domestic/intimate partner violence and feel getting involved would put your own life in danger, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) orTTY 1−800−787−3224 or dial 211 (Yes, that is 2-11, crisis hotline nationwide).

It’s a sad state of affairs, but far too often a law enforcement officer’s hands are tied because the victim refuses to speak up or testify against the abuser. So, that is when the State Attorney’s office might step in, intercede on the victim’s behalf, and do what the victim cannot safely do for herself.

Any of us who do even a small amount of advocacy work know the worst kind of call for any law enforcement official is a domestic dispute. It’s truly a very distressing set of events, any way you look at it, and from whatever vantage point you stand. But, the saddest result is when the story ends at a gravesite. What can we do to change such outcomes? How do we save domestic/intimate partner victims, as well as police officers who put their lives on the line for us every day? The floor is open for discussion. . .

Listen to Carolyn’s interview with Cynthia Brennen, on “Help, Hope & Healing.” Visit her Everyday Health blog, Emotional Wellbeing, or her website at orangeblossomwishes.com.

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