Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Didn't You Just Leave?"

I worked in a domestic and sexual violence shelter in Michigan for several years. One of the things I learned is how horrifyingly obssesive abusers can be. We sheltered women who had fled from brutal, sadistic men inTexas, Georgia, Mexico, California, Mississippi and many other states. Most of the women(and children) we sheltered were local people so one of the things we spent a lot of time doing was trying to prevent their assailants from finding them. We fielded calls from assailants claiming to be police, sherrif's deputies, lawyers. We fielded calls from women working with the abusive men who claimed to be family, friends, probation officres.
The most common question asked of abused women is, "Why didn't you just leave"? Most women try. They often have no place to go, shelters are mostly severely time limited stays. They are frequently kept unemployed or totally broke by their controllers. Altogether too often they are hunted down by incredibly tenacious control freaks who believe that if the can't "have" them, no one else will. During my few years at the shelter we worked with one woman who was murdered, one who was tracked from out of state and kidnapped, raped and beaten,and many, many women who could not escape.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has proposed new rules that may provide asylum for women from other countries who have a serious history of domestic abuse. The Bush administration refused to allow that these women are"not part of any persecuted group under American law. " While this is indeed good news, and people who have worked for justice for abused women for years feel this is a real breakthrough, ' “This really opens the door to the protection of women who have suffered these kinds of violations,” said Karen Musalo, a professor who is director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Professor Musalo has represented other abused women seeking asylum...'
the women still bear an onerous burden of proof. What I saw were many women who fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs. If they were lucky, they were able to bring some documents and identification. The government wants women fleeing abusive men to be able to prove "In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum,--- that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country. "
As anyone who knows anything about domestic violence, this is nearly impossible without either carting a satchel of documents with them or obtaining first rate legal assistance in the U.S.

While this is better than it was, this is far from a compassionate policy and offers only the bare bones possibility of help for women.
It seems to me that victims of brutal and cruel domestic partners more than fit the category of the desperate souls described on the Statue of Liberty.

If you are interested Amnesty International is working for the women of the world suffering domestic violence.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I myself got burned out working in a safe house for abused women. The stories that I listened to scared the shit out of me and made me so sad.

One story was of a woman in which the boyfriend literally cut her from stern to stem and even though she lived the wound had to be continually drained and the look of resgination on her face was depressing. Another was a Laotian woman--she was only 19 with three young children, all 1,3, and 5. Her husband of course was much older at 37 at least and she was so tiny and helpless. The children screamed all the time and yet the defeated look in her eye--and then finding out that she went back to him. God only knows if she is still alive.

Its all very distressing. In my area we have a a very large immigrant population of Africans, Southeast Asians such as Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Puerto Ricans. Of course we had poor Whites and Blacks as well. So we got a large range of women who were American and immigrant. Thus even though I don't work there anymore, its good to see that this initaitve is being passed.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Thanks for the comment. It is easy to get burned out in such work and to suffer second-hand trauma.