Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Protecting Yourself and Your Children Against Violence in the Family (page 3)
Family violence is a massive problem in our country. This includes men being violent against women, women being violent against men, men and women being violent against children, and children being violent to their parents and grandparents.
Understanding Domestic Violence
Family stress increases the potential for violence. Violence often escalates in a predictable pattern that goes from arguing, to cursing, to screaming, to pushing, to punching and kicking, to severely injuring, and then to murder. There is sometimes a family violence component associated with high-conflict divorce. The most important piece of advice I could give to anyone living with violence or abuse is to get help. Tell your story to a counselor, a lawyer, a minister, or a close friend. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-799-7233.
Some forms of abusive behavior do not involve physically striking someone but can be just as painful and damaging psychologically. Emotionally abusive behavior includes the following:
- Constantly criticizing
- Daily name calling and cursing
- Demeaning the co-parent in front of the children
- Encouraging the children to demean the co-parent
- Encouraging the children to view the co-parent negatively
- Demeaning the children
A single push, shove, or slap is a sign that there is something terribly wrong in any intimate relationship. The moment that single push, shove, or slap is ignored, the relationship goes from bad to worse. You will hear no fancy psychological talk or theorizing about this topic. In my mind, it is very cut-and-dried. By the time a relationship becomes physical in any way, the lives of the participants are in jeopardy.
I present this topic in such black-and-white terms because I have seen what happens when family violence is allowed to escalate. I have evaluated family homicides, attempted murders, ritualistic beatings and torturing of children, marital rape, and horrific emotional abuse in hundreds of cases. The perpetrators of violent family crimes have been men, women, and children. The victims have been men, women, and children.
The extent to which the judicial system will "believe" allegations of abuse varies tremendously. Some courts protect the alleged victim even when it is clear that the story is completely fabricated; some ignore indisputable signs of abuse and violence. There is no guarantee that one who has been abused will be believed, and no guarantee that one will be found innocent of abuse allegations that are based on lies and misrepresentations. That is not because the judicial system is crooked or dishonest, but simply because the skills that even the most competent human beings have for evaluating the truth in these cases are faulty and unreliable.
You must do everything in your power to protect your own safety and the safety of your children, but remember that if you are behaving out of spite and malice and are not abused but say you are, you are risking losing custody of your children in the process.
How to Protect Yourself
You can increase the odds of protecting your own safety (and the safety of the children) by doing the following:
- Learn how to de-escalate conflict.
- If you cannot de-escalate conflict, take a break and leave a tense and conflict-ridden situation when you can.
- Start talking to a counselor or therapist sooner rather than later. There are a number of good reasons for this. The first is that most counselors and therapists who deal with violence and abuse will tell you to start making plans to get out of the environment you are in, and sometimes that means getting out of the house. I believe that people need to hear statements like this often and from as many people as possible until they finally act on it. Start putting yourself in a position where you will hear it.
Another reason to talk to a counselor or therapist is that someone will be making a record of what you are complaining about close to the point in time that you are being mistreated. If the time ever comes that you will need to prove a history of violence or abuse, it is more credible when there is a record of something that is consistent with the point in time that you are claiming abuse. (This is in contrast to the person who goes to a therapist or counselor after an allegation of abuse has been made and starts complaining about what happened six months ago.)
- Try to get the person you are in conflict with to go to therapy with you. This can not only help defuse the situation but also give someone outside the relationship an opportunity to look at both of you in a neutral and impartial manner. If your coparent resists, do not force the issue. If you are too threatened or intimidated, don't go.
- When a victim wants to leave an abusive environment, lack of funds is often what prevents leaving the environment. If you need protection from abuse, start saving money as soon as possible. Set aside some credit on credit cards; borrow from family members, if necessary. Consider financial sacrifices a matter of survival.
- Develop safety strategies that help you reach out in an emergency. Keep a close friend's or relative's number on your speed dial. Create a code word or phrase that you can use with a trusted person to advise the person to call the police to your house when there is an emergency.
- Get information from reliable, reputable hotlines and informational sources. See the Resources section in the back of the book for a list of domestic violence organizations that can help.
- If your child is being abused, call the child abuse hotline in your area. These telephone numbers are listed in every public telephone book. You can make an anonymous call, but assume that if the person you are reporting lives with you, you may be putting yourself at risk.
If you have to flee the home, try to communicate with someone who knows the abuser that you are leaving and that it is not your intent to deny the person access to the children, but that you are being physically hurt or threatened and you are in fear of your and your children's health and safety.
- Pushing, tapping on the shoulder, poking, and other kinds of touching during an argument will be called "abuse," whether you think it's abuse or not. Think twice about touching the co-parent in any way, and remember that jail is not a fun place.
- Saying things like "I'm going to kill you" can earn you a night in jail, even if you've never so much as swatted a gnat. Say less, not more, during an argument.
- If you are not certain that you can control your temper during your contact with the co-parent, bring someone who can help keep you in line. Do not bring anyone who will egg you on to do something stupid.
- Watch the physical space between you and your co-parent when you are talking. Close proximity during heated conversations is threatening.
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