“Do you miss it?”
I was sitting in court next to the legal advocate from our local women’s shelter this afternoon, as we supported a woman who’d been brutalized by her husband. The photos from the hospital showed ugly bruises inflicted by the man’s cane. Yes. Cane. The man had the temerity to beat her till she was black and blue and then came to court, claiming he was too disabled to have managed the feat.
“I do miss it,” I confessed. From 2001-2004, it would have been me advocating for this woman, bringing 15 years of legal experience to the aid of battered women as part of the Blossom Project. It was my baby, a special six county program solely devoted to assisting victims of domestic violence. As the Attorney Coordinator, I designed the services, including eight-week classes geared toward giving victims much-needed information and direction in terms of where to find jobs, housing, child care, and more. Each week, I also represented up to 15 victims, mostly women, in the process of gaining protection orders in court.
There are a few women who really stand out from the hundreds of bruised faces I saw over those years. One came to every class, listened faithfully to everything that was said, but refused one of the bright pink carnations the ‘graduates’ received, for fear her husband (who she was preparing to leave) would think she’d been with a man. Another waited two years before she gathered the quiet courage to leave, more for her sons’ sake than her own, once they became secondary targets of the violence; as she predicted, she lost her income, then her house and finally her children. The system managed to work against her at every turn. A different one did much the same, but finally her children saw the truth of things and came back to her. She put herself through college, got a Fulbright to go to Africa for a semester to help women there, and now counsels abused women professionally.
There is nothing worse I’ve seen in my law practice than the results of one human brutalizing another, particularly when that man or woman or child is one for whom the batterer has professed great love. What kind of screwed-up message does that give the loved one? Studies have shown that it obviously distorts the ideas about relationships for a child growing up in such a home. Many of the men and women who I represented had grown up in a home like this as a child. That’s why we believed the education component was so important–giving them a hand up, if they’d take it.
Some did, and it was a proud day for both of us when it happened. Many didn’t. Statistics show that a DV victim returns an average of seven times to the abuser before being able to make that final break. I’ve been lucky that none of my clients have received the other kind of finality. They’ve been threatened with capital punishment if they leave, and occasionally, I’ve been threatened as well with harm for helping them. But somehow I kept on.
I still take divorce and custody cases referred from the women’s shelter, often pro bono, because someone who knows what they’re doing has to stand up for these women. I teach the chapter on civil remedies each year during shelter volunteer training. The legal advocate knows she can call me day or night for immediate advice to help her clients, who often need to have information to make a split-second decision. But it’s not the same as being the one in that courtroom chair. That position was the one time in my career I could feel that I was a hero every day. Yes, I miss it.