Editor’s Note: Kerith Dilley is the Executive Director of the Orange County Family Justice Center, a safe, confidential and friendly place where assistance is provided to survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and elder/dependent adult abuse. She wrote this column on behalf of Behind the Badge OC.
Sadly, Janay Rice is not alone.
The wife of NFL player Ray Rice who is seen on a video striking her in an elevator, is not the first – or the last – woman to marry her abuser. At least one in four adults has been in an intimate partner relationship that is violent.
The reasons for staying in abusive relationships are complex, and often unclear or unknown to people who have not experienced family violence or know someone close to them who has.
The burning questions – why did she marry Ray Rice? Why did she stay? – are not easy to answer.
Violent relationships are not always violent. Abusers compliment their victims and say they love them.
Yet, abusers are also extremely manipulative – they deliberately follow a pattern of abuse followed by tenderness, apologies and promises this will be the “last time.”
Finally, the most important – and least understood – reason women tell us why they don’t/can’t leave sooner is safety.
Tragically, the exact time when a person wants to leave the abuser is when he or she faces the most danger. The largest escalations of violence happen when this cycle is threatened. An emotionally abusive person will escalate to physical violence. An abuser will choke a partner who wants to leave. An abuser will use a knife or a gun.
An abused woman is 75 percent more likely to be killed when she tries to leave than if she stays, according to a story in The Atlantic Monthly.
And, leaving an abusive relationship is, practically speaking, very hard to do because there are multiple steps with different agencies:
- Filing a police report on a partner
- Filing a restraining order
- Navigating where to live – that’s safe for everyone
- Accessing money to pay for groceries or gas in a car
- Telling their story yet again to a prosecutor trying to decide whether to file a case
To compound the challenges, the police, social workers and judges don’t always talk to each other. And, all these steps can take days or even weeks. So, the victim constantly has to re-explain the trauma over and over again.
Now, add having children to the mix. Being undocumented or of precarious legal status (that is dependent on your relationship with the abuser) creates additional barriers.
It may be clearer why victims don’t leave until their lives are threatened.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this in Orange County. That’s because of an innovative solution to family violence – the Orange County Family Justice Center.
The Orange County Family Justice Center (OCFJC) shows victims that being with an abuser is harder than navigating “the system.”
When a victim comes to the OCFJC, he or she is met by a victim advocate who empowers them with options and resources. The victim can file a police report, file a temporary restraining order, sign up for financial assistance, and get placed into a shelter – all in one visit.
Founded in 2006, under the leadership of retired Anaheim Police Chief John Welter, and now championed and led by Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada, the OCFJC resolves the safety issue that victims face.
The OCFJC is a safe haven for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and elder abuse.
People are treated with dignity and they will be empowered to access any – or all – of the resources from the 16 onsite partners who are housed under one roof. Unfortunately, family violence affects all socio-economic levels.
The OCFJC breaks down barriers. With the help of OCFJC staff, victims tell their story fewer times and to receive coordinated help in a single visit. Victims know if they tell an advocate they need to file a police report, a detective will soon show up to take their statement. If they need to file a temporary restraining order, they will meet with an advocate who specializes in this work. If they need shelter, arrangements will be made and the shelter will pick up the victim at the Center. If they need to file for food stamps, a social worker will meet with them. And, so on for whichever step they must face.
This coordinated response is critical for all partnering agencies, particularly the police department, as domestic violence is among the most frequent calls that police must respond to.
One woman told us “I walked into the OCFJC a victim. But, I walked out a survivor.” That’s the Center’s goal.
I run one of the 16 partnering agencies – the OCFJC Foundation, an organization strategically focused on breaking the cycle of violence by empowering victims to prevent violence in their own lives from repeating. Children who are abused – or even witness violence at home – are 5 to 6 times more likely to become abusers or victims themselves.
The Foundation runs 20-hour Youth Violence Prevention Programs for Orange County youth that teaches children and teens, who have been abused or exposed to violence at home and in their community, several key strategies to break the cycle.
One lesson is called “Hands Are Not For Hitting.” In this exercise, the children trace their handprints and write five things – one on each finger – that they can use their hands for, that aren’t hitting. It’s heart-breaking when the children struggle to come up with five healthy and safe things they can do with their hands, but, all children do.
Children learn protective factors to help them stop violence and abuse in their own generation and not perpetuate it to their siblings and eventually their own children, or other family members.
These programs are led by women who have faced violence in their own lives – whether domestic violence in their own relationships or violence in their neighborhoods.
We recently launched an Adult Empowerment Program for women who have faced or are currently facing domestic violence. It’s led by a talented facilitator, who herself is in California because she escaped a domestic violence situation from her husband – across three continents. She came to a shelter in Orange County and became connected with the Foundation. She now facilitates our adult and youth violence prevention programs.
Just this morning, one woman in our newest adult empowerment program, upon learning about several red flags for abusive relationships, shared that she has experienced every single red flag in her relationships. This is the first time she has admitted this to anyone.
We offer our programs onsite at the OCFJC and at community sites, including Project Access Section 8 Housing Projects, Hermosa Village, Boys and Girls Clubs of Anaheim, motels, West Anaheim Youth Center, Anaheim Downtown Community Center, and Ponderosa Family Resource Center. These programs are free to the community.
We have launched a Youth Advisory Board to engage teenagers who want to educate their peers and the larger community about violent relationships. Youth listen to other youth, so our 9 youth leaders are engaging youth in disrupting the cycle of family abuse through videos and flash mobs.
The OCFJC is a solution to family violence. It’s a shining example of progressive police work – true community policing work, and problem-oriented policing.
I’m proud to work with the Anaheim Police Department to solve the societal problem of family violence. The OCFJC Foundation stands shoulder to shoulder with 15 amazing partners to change our society, so that responding to a domestic violence call will become rare in the next generation.
Our collective vision is that the future calls that do come into dispatch, those victims are soon transformed into survivors. With the help of diverse partners – Police, Social Workers and Violence Prevention Nonprofits – we can eradicate family violence.