Jill Donnenwirth, Director of Community-based Services, has been at The Shelter for 21 years. Through the years, she has experienced different cases, all including different types of violence, abusers, and survivors. To start off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we had a chat with Jill about her perspective on many areas surrounding domestic violence. Experience the conversation below (some topics may surprise you).
When you talk to people about domestic violence, how do you start?
When talking with others I like to start out with the definition of domestic violence…the act or threat of harming someone physically, emotionally, financially, sexually, psychologically, etc.
What it really comes down to is power and control.
Abusers are the best manager of their anger. Say you have an awful boss, you would never say anything to them about their behavior because you could get fired, so instead you go home and take it out on someone you know won’t bring consequences. You feel safe taking it out on a loved one because either you know they won’t report you, you threaten them to make sure they won’t, or you think that no one would believe them anyway.
What about drugs and alcohol?
Drugs and alcohol do not cause domestic violence, because violence against someone else is a choice. Drugs and alcohol are an excuse.
Domestic violence is not just physical:
There are many times that people don’t know they are a victim of domestic violence because they weren’t/aren’t subject to physical violence. They don’t realize that domestic violence doesn’t have to be physical.
We are often taught that certain behaviors are romantic when they are really warning signs of an abuser. Examples of this are; pushing for a fast commitment because the abuser knows they can be good for a couple of months to get you on the hook, isolating from friends and family, moving you away from your support, not letting you leave the room, etc.
Who is an abuser?
An abuser can be anyone. In our minds, we like to stereotype an abuser, but after years at the shelter I have seen abusive preachers, law enforcement, attorneys, teachers, honestly anyone. People also think that its only men who abuse, and that is wrong
Lately we have seen an increase in strangulation. It doesn’t take a lot of pressure to strangle someone, it takes more pressure to open a can of soda. I have also seen people have severe bite marks. Most physical abuse is aimed at the trunk of your body because it easy to cover up. When others can see signs of physical abuse is when you know the violence is escalating.
Women with children:
Handling domestic violence can be overwhelming for women with children because there are so many factors for them to consider. They often don’t have a job, a car, or experience, and just feel stuck. If they leave, they know their children will suffer because they won’t be able to provide for them properly, so they stay.
After sharing stories people often ask, “well do you have any success stories” and of course we do. When someone calls and decides to leave a violent home, that is a success story because they are reaching out for help.
Do you think that an abuser can change?
Yes, but first they must admit what they are doing is wrong.
Do you think someone can be abusive without knowing it?
No, abusers know exactly what they are doing.
Barriers to leaving:
There are many barriers to leaving; when a victim leaves the chances of the violence becoming lethal has increased to 75%, the abuser often threatens them to make them stay, they use children against them, they have lack of support from friends and family, society isn’t supportive so they also feel guilt and shame. Another barrier that is hard for people to understand is that the victim cares for their abuser. They do not want them to be abusive, they want them to stop the behavior and be the person they fell in love with.
The Shelter receives negative feedback because they do not approach victims by telling them to leave. Why does the shelter not tell victims to just leave?
Victims of domestic violence are exhausted from being judged by friends, family, and society. The last thing we want to do is judge them. They also just came from a situation where they were constantly controlled and told what to do, we do not want continue that behavior. We want them to make decisions for themselves and support whatever decision they make. If they decide to stay we will safety plan with them because their safety is most important.