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Panel Debunks Myths Surrounding Domestic Violence

Panel Debunks Myths Surrounding Domestic Violence

March 26, 2014

Perpetrators of domestic violence make it extremely difficult for their victims to flee, while the legal system poses hurdles for those who seek protection, experts who have worked in the trenches said during a panel discussion on March 24.

The panelists said there is a common misperception that victims of domestic violence can or should simply leave relationships with their abusers.

Domestic violence commonly evolves very slowly within a relationship, through a process where abusers gradually assert more and more control over victims, said Terri Lynn Hamrick, the president and CEO of Survivors, Inc.

“It’s a slow slide to power and control,” Hamrick said, adding that abusers typically engage in “micro aggression” like discouraging outside friendships, blocking doorways or taking car keys as a lengthy prelude to physical violence. 

As that process unfolds, victims may not recognize problematic behaviors as abuse, said Zujeil Flores, director of the Congreso de Latinos Unidos’ Domestic Violence Program.

Abusers sometimes use a victim’s immigration status as a way of maintaining control, threatening to report undocumented partners to federal authorities, Flores said.

In such instances, a victims’ lack of familiarity with the legal system or even the language itself can make her vulnerable, said Deborah Culhane, senior staff attorney with Women Against Abuse.  

The legal system does not provide perfect remedies, Culhane said, since Protection from Abuse orders can aggravate abusers and trigger greater violence against victims.

“PFAs might make things worse,” she said.  “At the end of the day, it’s a piece of paper. If the abuser doesn’t respect the legal system, there is a percentage of times where it might makes things worse.”

The situation is even more fraught for victims with children, she said, since the courts must consider 26 factors for custody relocation decisions.