Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ending the Violence: Know the Laws Around Abusive Relationships

In the state of Ohio, if someone receives mail at your address for three days or more, they are considered a resident of the home; therefore, they must be formally evicted through the judicial system if they refuse to move out on their own.  If you don't have a lease, you have to evict them on  your own.  Thousands of dollars.  Thousands.  If you put someone on your automotive insurance, and try to take them off later, you can't, unless, the other person gets new insurance and agrees to provide you with a copy of their new coverage.  Otherwise, you have to cancel it altogether and start over, losing any benefits you may have had during that time.  If someone threatens your life, legitimately, you have to be able to provide proof in order to get a protection order.  Proven death treats will provide you with a protection order for a maximum of five years, while other "minor" threats of violence deem only three, or less.  After such time expires, you would have to go back to court and prove a continuance to have it extended.  Additionally, the abuser has the right to appear in the courtroom to defend him/herself with you there.  This, along with a plethora of other complicated manifesto's are written into our laws; and this is without the abuser being a legal spouse.

In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was enacted by the federal government.  1994!! What this did was take the jurisdiction from the state to the federal government, with some stipulations of course.  For example, if you receive a protection order, and the person moves out of state, then comes back and attacks you, it then becomes a felony case.  States still have priority and the law still stands today. If you show up at the police station in the state of Ohio with visible injuries and name the perpetrator, Ohio will press charges with or without your consent or additional information, regardless of your individual decision to do so.  That shouldn't be a problem right; why wouldn't you want to press charges?  Trust me, the situation is always more complicated than you can ever envision. 

In 2010, I entered into an abusive relationship.  Of course, I didn't know it at the time, but it didn't take long.  It lasted a total of three years.  There were generations of physical abuse in my family, and subsequently, I developed a very strong, feminist personality at a young age, knowing a man wouldn't dare put his hands on me!  WRONG!  It happened, more often that I choose to face, but the memories are there.  The legal documents are there. 

The first severe night was after a family gathering where there had been some drinking.  He wandered off; I went home.  Of course, I called various people trying to find out where he was and if he was safe.  As I am standing in my driveway, talking to his ex-girlfriend, he sneaks up over the hill and knows what I am doing, who I am talking to.  Suddenly the devil himself is standing afoot.  First, went the phone across the driveway, second, my body hurled across the driveway.  The driveway saw a lot of action that night.  Any woman who has ever been put into this situation knows two things; 1. How strong you really are 2.  How weak you really are. 

The best way I know how to make an outsider understand this concept is by what happened next.  I had gotten away, found the phone, dialed 911 and put it in my pocket so he wouldn't see it, hoping the police would hear.  He grabbed me by the neck, pushed my face down the in gravel, underneath my back tire, and was screaming things at me that I can't even remember now.  I began to scream, "you're going to kill me," and I stopped myself, remembering the phone.  I didn't want the police to think he was trying to murder me for the sake of how long he would spend in jail.  This thought actually went through my mind in the midst of all the chaos.  How is that possible?  What the hell was wrong with me? 

Turns out, nothing.  The degree of manipulation and mental abuse that occurs prior to an actual physical altercation is astounding.  And usually goes unnoticed by the victim.  S/he slowly becomes beaten down, psychologically, to the point of believing that the only identity they possess is the one given to them by their abusers.  It is their artistry, their magic, because you never see it happen, and suddenly, poof, you...are...gone.

This is when guilt settles in, protection for them finds a home in you; excuses infiltrate your vocabulary, because there is a huge void inside you, where your actual identity used to reside, and creates a new home for the abused self. 

It continues, cycles really.  But the term, "battered women's syndrome," the severe inaccuracy, bothers me tremendously.  I am a different woman than my mother; my mother is different than her mother; we were all at one point, a battered woman.  It isn't a type of woman who becomes battered, it is a type of man who batters.  But this is not the culture in which we live.  We are victim blamers, shamers, non-relators.  It's so much easier that way, isn't it?

So how did I get out?  Luck?  Timing?  Who knows.  All I know is that it happened, finally.  I was utterly dead inside.  I loved him at one point.  When he held me out of fear of losing me, when he would man-up and defend my honor in public, when we would take walks together and talk about anything and nothing for hours.  But it was rare, too rare.  He began accusing me of cheating, becoming increasingly abusive, stalked me at work, made me lose my job, become financially dependent on him, and ostracized me from everyone in my life.  It is their way.  It is how you get stuck.  But, I had a friend, who, in a space completely devoid of darkness or negativity, believed in me and my worth.  Day by day, my friend continued to build that belief in myself and honor me.  The genuine desire to see someone smile is one of the most potent acts a human being can bestow upon another.       

It was enough to ground me again in my own making.  Next time he left, I packed everything of his, changed the locks and went to begin the restraining order.   The next few months, I lived in fear; but the point is, I lived. 

The restraining order took nearly four weeks to take effect, and in the past two and a half years that it has been legal, I have overlooked multiple opportunities to use it.  Why?  One reason is because it takes time to regain your strength, and I still live inside a little bit of fear, looking over my shoulder, twinge when I think I see him, hide even.  But the second reason, the one I find more important, is because the strength I have gained from this experience, is not one I'm giving up easily.  I have looked him in the face, dared him to tempt me, and walked away.  I have rebuilt my entire life, from each corner, establishing a new center of existence for myself, and that center is stronger than ever.

Know the laws in your state around domestic violence, but more importantly, know yourself, your strengths, your friends, your weaknesses, and most significant, know the signs of one who may be enduring violence against their person.  I stand now, regretting nothing.  Though I wish I could have learned such lessons in a different way, I am quite reassured my purpose has grown, my awareness is heightened, and my empathy has been exaggerated beyond compare. 

If it is necessary, take the hand of a friend you love and ask them to tell them something good about yourself each day.  If it isn't necessary, then take the hand of a friend whom you love, and tell them something magical about them, every day.  Saving someone's life is often as simple as loving them, and them knowing your love is real. 

If you or someone you know is being victimized, contact your local shelter for help, or reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.  It's okay if you are living in a place of shame and cannot yet reach out to a friend.  Other resources have been created to accommodate every battered person's current situation.  Know that you are not alone.  And know that you are not beyond help.  You are worthy of love, and what you are experiencing is the farthest thing from it.  Muster up the strength that you can, I promise you it's deep inside; survival, that thing you do every day, takes the most strength of any act one can perform, and tell yourself you will make it, every day, until it happens for you.  And if you have begun to see the signs, don't risk finding out if they're all in you're head, or if they're real.  Love yourself now, in this moment, and leave.  Never let another person take away your honor, your identity, or your sense of worth.  Even death cannot take away our purpose, for we move on as infinitely as time, and as we live, we are to do so as equals.  No exceptions. 

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