Meredith Vieira, Janay Rice, Rihanna – #WhyTheyStayed and How You Can Leave

Domestic violence has dominated the headlines recently, spurred by a video of Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Rice dragging his unconscious, then-fiancé Janay Palmer out of an elevator. Since that day, the full video has been released (showing Rice punching Palmer in the face) and other NFL players have been suspended (such as Minnesota Viking’s running back Adrian Peterson who was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child).

Aside from pledging financial, operational and promotional support to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the NFL is still trying to figure out how to handle this mess without losing any lucrative advertising sponsors.

Domestic Violence Spans All Socioeconomic Boundaries

Unfortunately, domestic violence is something family law attorneys hear about on a regular basis, and it can happen to anyone. According to Connatser Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory, “Domestic violence extends across all socioeconomic boundaries and impacts people from all walks of life regardless of your race, sexual orientation or age.”

As the spotlight on domestic violence has continued to shine, courageous women started speaking out on social media – sharing their personal stories of abuse on Twitter using the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. Then celebrities including Robin Givens and Meredith Vieira spoke up too – two strong, intelligent women who stayed until they could find a safe way out. It isn’t that easy to walk away from an abusive relationship, regardless of your financial situation, education and other factors.

“The biggest risk factor for becoming a victim of domestic violence is being a woman. What more women need to know is that there are many resources, services and legal protections available to them once they find the courage to leave,” Abby advises.

Domestic Violence Shelters Offer a Safe Place to Stay AND Support

Locally, in North Texas, domestic violence shelters such as The Family Place and Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support offer a safe place for women and their children and more. Abby finds the support these shelters offer can really help women as they escape the cycle of abuse. “Along with interim housing, many shelters offer job and interview training, clothing (for every day and interviews), therapy and counseling for both women and children exposed to domestic violence,” she says.

Whether you (or the abuser) are rich or poor, the reasons women (and some men) stay in abusive relationships are no different. “The No. 1 reason abuse victims stay is economic dependency. The abuser typically controls the victim – and control is usually the underlying factor – by withholding money. Often times there is no physical abuse, but there is the threat of physical violence to the victim, her family members and/or her children. In other cases, a victim may be afraid she will be deported, because her immigration status is tied to her spouse,” Abby says.

Domestic Violence Victims Have Legal Protections in Texas

Along with filing for divorce, victims of the crime of domestic violence and their children have many legal protections available to them. In Texas, Abby says, “women can seek a protective order against the abuser if the act of physical aggression was intended to result in physical bodily harm or sexual assault or there is a threat of imminent physical bodily harm or sexual assault.”

Abby also advises, “If the judge finds that family violence has occurred and that family violence is likely to occur in the future, he or she can issue a protective order which prohibits the abuser from having any contact whatsoever with the victim and/or any other member of her household for two years.”

Women who stay because they fear being deported may also be protected under federal law. “The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally passed by Congress in 1994, includes immigration provisions that allow immigrant survivors of domestic violence, who are married to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, obtain lawful permanent residence status without the cooperation of their abuser spouse,” Abby explains. There are also legal protections available to help women establish child support, custody and visitation guidelines under Texas law.

 It’s Not Your Fault! – Know the Signs

Time and again, Abby hears similar stories from abuse survivors regarding the patterns of abuse. She sees that “domestic violence runs on a path that is cyclical. Abuse occurs, and then a honeymoon phase follows where the abuser begs for forgiveness and promises never to do it again. Then the controlling behavior and abuse escalates again, and in far too many cases, the abuser convinces the victim that the abuse is his or her fault.”

Abby wants victims to know that “It’s not your fault. No one ever deserves to be victimized by domestic violence.” She further counsels that women (and men) should watch for several common signs that they are in an abusive relationship. These include:

  1. You feel afraid of the abuser.
  2. You avoid bringing up certain topics so the abuser doesn’t get upset.
  3. You feel that you can’t do anything right.
  4. You believe you deserve to be hurt.
  5. The abuser blames you for the abusive behavior (again, It’s Not Your Fault!)
  6. The abuser is obsessively jealous.
  7. The abuser restricts your access to money, a phone and loved ones.
  8. The abuser prohibits you from working.
  9. If you do work, you have a hard time keeping a job because of the abuser’s disruptive behavior at your workplace.

“If you in any way believe you are being abused, put a safety plan in place for you and your children,” Abby says. A safety plan may include stashing away some money, clothes, a phone, extra car keys, passports, I.D.s and other important paperwork in a safe place outside the home.

Learn more about safety planning on the Genesis Women’s Shelter website.

Reach Out for Help Today

If you need to escape an abusive and dangerous relationship, help is a phone call away. Either contact a domestic violence shelter near your, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also visit the NDVH website at http://www.thehotline.org/.

In addition, teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit www.loveisrespect.org.