By Maria DiBari
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and although it hasn’t been a prominent feature in recent headlines, domestic violence still exists in the homes of many throughout the country. Every October, the purple comes out, newspapers make mention of stories of survival and local organizations supporting the cause, social media pushes out pictures of abused women with some "End Domestic Violence" slogan, but rarely is there any information for actual victims beside a hotline number. As a survivor and a victim’s advocate, I know that victims need more than hotline numbers in order to survive and escape abuse. Victims need action plans, many need emergency funds for survival, and almost all victims need pro bono lawyers to help them out of abusive marriages and assist in custody cases.
This month I would like to dedicate an article to the victim. I believe that there are a few things a victim can do now to start protecting themselves in an abusive situation. The most important action to take if your life is in jeopardy is to call 911. After that, I suggest:
1. Documentation: Any way a victim can document abuse will help them down the road, whether it be in court, at the police station after an incident, or later on when a victim files for medical benefits after a violence related injury or even emergency funds, a document trail will be beneficial.
There are a few ways a victim can document abuse and injuries related to abuse. If a victim is able to write a personal testimony for each crime, and record all the relevant details including important facts such as time, date, injury if any, threats, pictures of injuries, and a detailed summary of the situation, it can be used as a petition for an order of protection. I suggest going to someplace safe and writing these summaries beforehand so that all the details are carefully thought out first, then file for a restraining order using these summaries as your petition or personal statement. Get the details right! This will be a legal document and one that you can use as evidence. When going to court, use your local domestic violence shelter to find a court advocate to accompany you.
If a victim is too afraid to file for a protective order in court, an informational report can be made at any police station anytime. A victim or survivor can go to their local station and inform them of the abuser, his/her whereabouts, and any concerns you have about safety. This will be kept confidential.
After a violence related injury, it is highly important to visit the doctor and record these injuries there, privately and with caution. Victims often need medical care and therapy after abuse, and each state has an office for crime victims that provides medical benefits for those that are uninsured or lack the funds for therapy or surgery.
Document the abuse with your local domestic violence shelter or organization. Start having an advocate help with recording the abuse, finding you a safe place to live, and providing you with advocacy in court. Speak up, and let them know what you as a victim "need", such as emergency funds, medical help, assistance with finding a new job after abuse, or obtaining a cell phone for safety.
If you are being abused call the police. If you are in fear of your life, dial 911. Listen to your gut instinct, always. It’s there to protect you. And through this all, document everything and utilize the resources around you.