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Womens Center & Shelter

Observations of a Summer Intern

Abuse often lurks long after the victim leaves…

During my time as a development intern at WC&S this summer, I was fortunate enough to spend a day in the legal department. It was here that I watched women file Protection From Abuse orders (PFA’s), and even had a chance to sit in at court hearings.  One woman in particular tugged at my heart that day. She and her abuser both had PFA’s against one another. The situation unfolded and she, unknowingly, violated a clause in her PFA and was arrested. She was sincerely misinformed, but her abuser used this as a way to purposefully have her arrested. This situation shocked me, and clearly demonstrated that manipulation, control and intentional hurting still happen once the woman decides to leave. Ending abuse is not always as simple as “just leaving.”

I learned about her story, along with many others, when I first started my internship with WC&S. Prior to, I had very little knowledge about the horror that is intimate partner violence, but I quickly learned. With more than 30% of all females being affected by abuse, it is clearly an issue that deserves attention. In addition, I soon learned that leaving is only the first step in a long journey for these women. This woman’s abuser still managed to control and manipulate her, even after she had physically left the relationship and taken legal actions against him.

In another case, a woman separated from her abuser but was not financially stable enough to file for divorce. Every year, her husband used his tax filing as an opportunity to control and manipulate her financially. Financial manipulation was another aspect of abuse which I was unaware of, and this showed me that control can occur in a variety of situations.

online stalkingAlyce was in a physically, emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. For years she lived in fear; in fear for her own life and also the lives of her family members. When Alyce finally made the dangerous decision to leave her abuser, she did not realize that he would continue to find ways to control her. Not only did he try to reach her through the internet, he also stole her email password and took over her account. 

Indeed, even after a woman escapes and appears to be physically safe, the emotional distress and fear often escalate. One client explained that although she had left her abuser, she still lives in fear because now she does not have a constant eye on him, and she expects him to show up everywhere she goes.

“At WC&S I learned the complexity of these abusive relationships.”

Abuse is a choice to exert power and control, so when the woman escapes, her abuser very often escalates his tactics in order to keep her living in fear. This is why asking the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?” does not work. Leaving an abusive relationship is, in fact, the most dangerous time for the woman. The safety planning that WC&S provides for women allows them to develop safe strategies for getting out, as well as strategies for staying safe after she leaves.  Recently, for example, Women’s Center helped a client safety plan for her children’s custody visits with their father, the abusive partner she had left.

Next time you hear:

  • Why doesn’t she just leave?
  • Why isn’t she over it yet? She left the relationship.

…Will you take the opportunity to talk about the lingering patterns of abuse that occur AFTER she leaves?