“Just leave!” It’s that simple, right? Wrong. Approximately 50 percent of women who are murdered by their partners are in the act of leaving or have left within the past few months. Fortunately, most abusive situations do not end so tragically, but it should be very clear that leaving does not necessarily end abuse. Sometimes that abuse is actually exacerbated. This especially applies if you are dealing with someone whose attitude may be “Oops, I can’t hit them any more. Guess I’ll have to start dragging them into court instead.”
The Power and Control Wheel has been well publicized for several years, highlighting patterns of abusive behavior. Seek out any web site for abuse victims and you will find that wheel prominently displayed. What is less known, and far more recent, is the Post Separation Power and Control Wheel. A huge portion of that wheel involves using children as pawns in order to further inflict harm on a mom or a dad who simply wants to be a good parent, to proceed without interference.
I have seen the court system used to exact revenge on people who exercised their right to leave. The very system that is charged with watching out for the best interest of the children, sometimes winds up unwittingly doing the opposite. Parents who previously had no interest in their own children suddenly start petitioning for shared parenting, or even sole custody. This despite the children being attached to the other parent and thriving under that parent’s care. I do not oppose shared parenting; I have seen children thrive in such situations. But it only works when both parents are invested in its success.
According to world-renowned expert Lundy Bancroft, abusive fathers petition for custody at approximately double the rate of non-abusive fathers. This makes perfect sense to me: A non-abusive father who is concerned about his children’s situation will also consider the implications of subjecting these same children to a court proceeding. That father is likely to proceed only if the situation is dire enough to justify involving the children in litigation. That father may say, “Gee, I don’t much like my ex-wife’s new husband and neither do my kids, but he pretty much stays out of the way and he treats my ex well.” That same father is more likely to petition for a change in custody only if he has reason to feel the children are being directly harmed: If the children report missing school because the stepfather and mother are too absorbed in arguments to get them on the bus, or if the mother and/or stepfather drink to excess on a nightly basis and keep the children awake far past midnight, or if there is never enough food in the house…and children are of course in obvious danger in the event there is physical or sexual abuse.
If a noncustodial parent cares about the children’s welfare, that parent will first attempt to mitigate any negative effects from the children’s home environment. Extra court involvement will be saved as a last resort. And yes, that does sometimes need to be done.
The abusive father or noncustodial mother, on the other hand, might think nothing of filing an emergency ex parte motion to have a child immediately removed from that child’s home pending a court hearing, sometimes even inventing false accusations, in order to hurt the other parent. It bothers the abuser not at all that the child also suffers.
The court system should not be used to continue the abuse long after the victim has left. I would love to see every domestic judge in the country become educated and aware, and earn to use their power to stop this. I know, laws have to change, and it will be an extensive process. But until that happens, too much power will rest in the hands of those who intend harm. Does anyone seriously believe that is in the best interest of the children?
P.S. I tried to post the Post Separation Power and Control Wheel, by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, in Duluth MN, and couldn’t. If you are interested, you can find it with the keywords Post Separation Power and Control Wheel.
What I have to say does not apply only to sexual assault; the principles apply more widely than that. But it is the focus.
Filing a complaint about sexual assault is scary; as making noise about any way you have been offended against can also be. At best it is a nuisance; at worst, you get to go on trial, in a sense, as if the whole thing was your fault. Actually it can get worse than that. You can get hostile questions and then have to go out into a world that feels perfectly free to intimidate and threaten you because you opened your mouth instead of keeping it shut.
I wish it was easier, because way too often the onus is on the wrong party. But it’s not. Reality steps in, in the sense that we have to live in this world the way it is, not the way we want it to be. (We can work to change it, though; that is an option.)
You have no doubt already said “Stop that” or “That’s not okay” to the offender, as well as attempting to physically fight that person off. Maybe you bargained with them to get them to leave you alone. Now it is time to bring in backup in a sense, to decide whether to involve someone else, someone with a bit more authority.
Law enforcement is frequently involved. Unless you are dealing with an exceptionally astute officer, there is a very good chance they will just sit on the report unless the offender has a record of convictions, or unless you can present some physical or witness evidence,
At this point, please do not give up. Please be aware that you may well be the first person to complain about this particular offender. But guess what: If you don’t report an offense, then it legally never took place. So please consider reporting it anyway. If you can bring yourself to. Because people seldom offend only once. There will likely be another victim, and another…And sooner or later, someone with enforcement powers will have to pay attention, someone will have to realize that two or three or 20 people are unlikely to maliciously concoct the same story about the same person.
If you can find the courage, think seriously about making sure there is a paper trail. It took decades with Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, but the attention those cases eventually garnered will likely make future reports more likely to be attended to. Hopefully.
Decisions: Yes or No
Way back in my much-younger, dating years, I received a rather strange lecture. I had accepted a date with a nice enough young man, who invited me to dinner at his house. My thought: “How nice, he will cook for me.” His? “I’m getting laid.” Mind you, he never in any way acted aggressively toward me. Since it was instantly clear that our agendas didn’t match, he made no attempt to physically push my boundaries.
He did, however, surprise me with what he said: “I don’t understand why you didn’t assume that if I asked you to dinner at my place, you wouldn’t accept the invitation unless you were interested in a sexual involvement.” He was flat-out confused that I had not jumped to that conclusion the minute the invitation was issued.
Now let’s view a similar (but nonsexual) situation, through a similar lens. Suppose you promised your best friend a ride to a football game, and they just assumed that included a hamburger and drinks after. You would hopefully not feel guilty saying No, even though this friend might say you were obligated. That thing you initially promised—that is all anyone had a right to assume.
Now suppose you or someone you know simply changes their mind at the last minute. Should they be expected to follow through with a bad idea? It is fine to change your mind, whether sex is involved or it is as simple as not wanting to spend so much time with this person. Please feel free to say No whenever the situation warrants. When it is sexual, however, there is a whole new dimension to deal with
Suddenly you have to consider all kinds of peripheral factors: Is this person dangerous? Are you risking injury when you change your mind? Or are you dealing with a true gentleman, or lady, who will respect your wishes? Changing your mind, even at the last possible minute, should not be dangerous. But this is the world many women live in, where they have to weigh potential consequences, even in situations that initially appeared innocuous.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if no one was interested in a sexual relationship that wasn’t truly desired by both partners, if the immediate response to sensing hesitation was “It looks like you are having doubts. I don’t want this if you don’t, so please take some time to think it over first.” And then maybe propose a game of cards, or Jinga.
This whole issue is way too complex to cover in a short blog such as this one. But there are a few things I would hope people consider: 1) “No” is a complete sentence. If you care about someone as a human being, you will respect that. 2) It is wise to be mindful of your surroundings, to try to avoid situations that leave you feeling cornered. That does not make it your fault if someone takes unfair advantage, but it is certainly easier on anyone to not have to navigate dangerous situations. 3) How are we raising our children? Hopefully we teach them mutual respect as opposed to entitlement. Our children need to learn early on to honor the boundaries of others, and to expect their own boundaries to be honored as well.
The #MeToo movement started with some real horror stories, and some abuses are blatant. But it is important to realize that the spectrum is very nuanced. There is a lot to navigate, and no one should be criticized for being victimized. That is simply not fair.