After 20 years of representing the direct and indirect victims of domestic violence, I was looking forward to my first blog on the topic to be on a positive note, one of empowerment. My daughter recently introduced me to country music, and she made me a playlist that included an amazing song of empowerment for domestic violence victims, “I miss me more” by Kelsea Ballerini. While Kelsea’s character in her song did not suffer from physical violence, the song reminds us while some domestic violence can be horribly violent, many victims suffer domestic violence without any physical violence. Domestic violence is most often characterized by control by one partner and loss of identity by the other. Kelsea’s character recognized that she “missed me more”; she recognized her lost her sense of self and she got it back by getting out of the damaging relationship.
While I could not help but introduce this blog with this message of empowerment, this blog was inspired by a story that was quite the opposite. I represent a mother of 6 children, 2 of which were sexually abused by their stepfather. When my initial interview of my client indicated the presence of domestic violence, I did an extensive interview of my client over zoom. The interview revealed a 10+ year history of domestic violence, several times getting physical and often in front of the children. However, what was most striking to me was that my client did reach out for help earlier on in the relationship. She sought marital counseling through the couples’ religious leader. She related to him that when her husband got angry, he would subject her to terrible verbal abuse, calling her a prostitute and slut among other choice descriptions. When she would protest this behavior, the arguments often escalated and at times got violent. The religious leader told my client that she shared equal blame for the violence since she voiced her objections to his behavior. He told her that she should stay quiet and let him get his anger out.
The victim is not to blame!!! No one deserves to be treated the way this wife and mother was treated. Instead of blaming the victim and giving free license to the perpetrator, the counselor should have addressed the actions of the husband and sought to protect the victim. Unfortunately, I should not have been so surprised because child welfare agencies did the same thing for many years until the New York Court of Appeals issued its landmark decision in Nicholson v Scarpetta. This case stopped the pattern of victims of domestic violence being subjected to allegations of child neglect for being victims. The Court decided that allowing a child to witness domestic violence is insufficient, without more, to rise to the level of child neglect.
How does someone know they are in a domestic violence relationship? It usually starts with loss of self. Kelsea Ballerini’s lyrics are so instructive:
I retired my red lipstick ’cause you said you didn’t like it
I didn’t wear my high heel shoes
‘Cause I couldn’t be taller than you
I didn’t wanna lose my friends, but now it’s hard to even find them
It’s what you wanted, ain’t it?
It’s what you wanted.
If you or someone you care about is in a relationship where that person is not permitted by their partner to be themselves; to have relationships with their friends or family or to just feel good about themselves, that is a red flag for domestic violence. Don’t wait too long to act to protect yourself and those you care about. Seek advice from specialists in domestic violence. If you don’t feel safe sticking up for yourself or attempting to leave the relationship, call your local domestic violence hotline. In New York, the number is 1-800-621-HOPE (4673). For more information, contact me at the Law & Mediation Office of Lewis S. Calderon.