Guest Blogger: Partners for Peace Legal Advocate, Hannah Benjamin (she, her)
Hannah was inspired to write this piece after a hard day as part of her self-care. This story is not based on any one individual, but rather about the barriers for survivors to be safe. While not all survivors experience all of these things, these are conversations that we hear all too frequently from survivors when they tell us how people react to their stories. Survivors experience a myriad of additional barriers, especially if they are not cisgender, heterosexual, white women. This piece is focused on some common themes we hear in our everyday work with survivors.
“Why don’t you just leave?” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence theme for Domestic Violence Awareness/Advocacy Month is “what is safety?” In this piece, Hannah wanted to explore the common truth that sometimes safety is staying in the relationship and how others (who mean well) are not very willing to accept that truth. While leaving is often a part of someone’s long-term safety plan, ‘leaving’ in and of itself does not make someone safer. This is an imagined conversation between someone who has no experience of domestic violence and a survivor.
Why Don’t You Just Leave?
By Hannah Benjamin
Why Don’t You Just Leave?
Where do I go?
Don’t you have family?
My family took their side
Well what about friends?
I wasn’t allowed to have friends
The closest neighbor lives three miles away and probably doesn’t know I exist
Well surely you could go to a shelter
The shelters are full
Get your own apartment then
The affordable housing waitlist is two years long
Well get a job and save for it
They won’t let me work
Well don’t tell them
I can’t get there, we only have one car and they take it to work
Take public transit
There isn’t any where I live
What about a taxi?
They are unreliable at best and nonexistent at worst
Well maybe you could pay someone to drive you
I have to account for every penny I spend…and they check the bank accounts to make sure
Well could you take out a loan?
How? I have no credit history, no assets, no way to pay it back.
Then call the police and get them arrested, then you could do what you wanted.
I’ve tried that. The police come and are told I am crazy.
But if you have bruises surely they notice that
They are told I hit myself to get them in trouble
But the police must see through that
I am sobbing and shaking, they are charming and calm. I look crazy
After several times though, they must do something
They were arrested once. They got out thirty minutes later on a $60 bail. That was the night they almost killed me when they got home
But what about bail conditions?
They made sure I couldn’t call and report it. I didn’t dare call again after that.
What about a restraining order
I have to prove I’ve been abused by them in court. They could afford an attorney, I can’t
But you could do it yourself, without an attorney
They would come with their attorney and have a stronger case, I wouldn’t stand a chance
Well you don’t know unless you try
And have the same thing happen that happened when I called the police?
Well if you get it, then you’ll be safe, isn’t it worth the risk?
It’s a piece of paper. They could kill me before the police ever got there.
Kill you? Do you really think it would get that bad?
They almost killed me once. They will do it again and succeed.
Well what about your kids? Don’t you have to protect them?
If I called CPS, they would tell CPS I hurt the kids.
But if you get the restraining order, then that should show that they hurt you too.
Even if CPS believes me, they could still take the kids for “failure to protect”
They don’t just show up and take the kids, there’s an investigation
True, but there’s a chance that they could take the kids and put them with people that are even worse.
Come on, foster care isn’t that bad
I think the kids are safer with me.
But you can’t even keep yourself safe, let alone your kids.
I keep my kids safe by making myself unsafe. I take all their abuse so they don’t hurt the kids. If I left, they could get the kids and I couldn’t be there to protect them.
That’s why you would take the kids with you.
They told me that if I ever did that, they would file for divorce and get full custody
Well why don’t you do that?
I told you, I can’t afford an attorney and they can. Besides, I don’t have the finances to care for them on my own.
Surely the court would order child support
They already told me they wouldn’t pay it
But they have to, it’s a court order. If they don’t pay, call the police.
The police won’t enforce it because it’s a civil matter. I would have to file a motion in court.
Well you could do that.
The court is so slow it would take a year to hear my case. And the court will just give a warning
But the next time, then they would have to pay
There are so many warnings that my kids will be grown before I ever see a penny. And what do I do in the meantime?
Apply for government assistance
That’s not enough to cover rent, let alone anything else.
Well maybe if you just talked to them more and did marriage counseling, the abuse would stop.
We’ve tried that. They always convince the therapist that I’m the problem.
Well if everyone else is saying you have issues, maybe you do. I mean, there’s all these options and you won’t do any of them. Why don’t you just leave?
Why don’t they just stop abusing me?
Are you sure that’s what is really happening? Maybe it’s just a drinking problem. You said that sometimes it’s really good.
It happens with drinking or without. I’ve tried to be supportive. After the abuse, they always apologize and buy me things and say it won’t happen again and I want to believe them because I love them, but it always happens again.
Well then you should know better and not fall for it. I’ve tried to help you and all you do is give excuses. I mean why don’t you tell anyone about this? It’s been going on for years and you haven’t said a word?
Because no one will believe me.
Yes they will, everyone knows domestic violence happens. It’s even domestic violence awareness month
They believe it happens, but they don’t believe me. Even you don’t believe me. Every time I speak out, it only gets worse. No one listens.
Maybe that’s because you make a big deal about it and then go back. It’s hard to believe the boy who cried wolf. Why don’t you just leave, then maybe people would listen to you?
Because it’s safer if I stay.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence or partner abuse, please call our 24-hour helpline at 1-800-863-9909. It’s free and confidential.