Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 6

FROM OUR PRESIDENT

'Why Don't They Just Leave?'

''

What I don't understand is why don't they
just leave?" This is a question often asked
during discussions about domestic violence.
Implicit in this question is a number of stereotypes and assumptions - that victims of
domestic violence are weak, powerless, and
uneducated; that they are helpless. To the
contrary, over the years that I have represented
survivors of domestic violence, I have found
that they are anything but weak, powerless,
and uneducated.
The women I have worked with have proven to
be courageous, resilient, and resourceful.1 They
have demonstrated wisdom in deciding when
and how they can leave an abusive relationship
to best protect themselves and their children.
They are intrepid survivors.

Connect
with Susie:
shoffman@dcbar.org

"When you consider
the challenges of
leaving, those who
do so have shown
courage, tenacity,
and commitment
to a healthy family
life."
Photo: Joe Shymanski

6

WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

OCTOBER 2019

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month,
and we can start with debunking some of these
stereotypes, beginning with the question of why
women stay.
Myth #1: It's easy for a woman to leave her abuser,
so she must not mind the abuse. Years ago, I spoke
to a high school class on "family and society"
and opened the floor for questions. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions was delivered
incredulously: "Why don't they just leave?"
Rather than respond directly, I engaged the
class in a problem-solving exercise in which
they helped a fictional person strategize how
to leave her abuser.
The class was given the following scenario:
Tiffany was a smart high school junior who
had been dating the star of the football team,
became pregnant, and dropped out of school
to have their child. Tiffany's parents disagreed
with this decision and cut all ties with her. Fast
forward six years later to find Tiffany married
to her high school boyfriend, with two more
children under the age of five. For several years,
her husband had been abusing her, and she
decided that she needed to leave for her own
sake and for her children.
I asked the students to help devise a "game plan"
for her departure. Together, we worked through
the challenges of how Tiffany could find a new
place to stay and put down a security deposit
with no income, find a job while having to care
for three young children, and pay for child care

on an entry-level salary. As we were noodling
through Tiffany's "exit plan," one of the students
raised her hand and said, "You never told us about
the details of the abuse." I asked why that would
matter. She explained, "Well, unless the abuse was
really bad, I think that I would tell her to stay." There
it was - that perfect, teachable moment!
On top of these practicalities, research shows
that individuals who try to leave are more likely
to face increased danger - an escalation in
violence, stalking, and homicide risk. 2 The
decision is further complicated by the fact
that human relationships are complex. Abusers
typically isolate their victims from family and
friends, leaving them with low self-esteem and
little support to leave the relationship.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has
noted several other reasons why individuals may
stay in abusive relationships, including embarrassment or shame, low self-esteem, love, the
hope that the partner will "revert" back to his
former self, staying together for the sake of the
children, and cultural or religious reasons. 3
Undocumented immigrants face even more
daunting obstacles for fear of deportation if
they seek help from authorities.4
Despite these overwhelming hurdles, a significant number of individuals do leave abusive
relationships.5 When you consider the challenges of leaving, those who do so have shown
courage, tenacity, and commitment to a healthy
family life. Lawyers can help them overcome
these obstacles by obtaining civil protection
orders that, in the District of Columbia, for
example, can protect them against assault and
threats, as well as by gaining temporary custody
and child support for up to a year.
Myth #2: Domestic violence occurs only among
low-income or uneducated individuals. While
women from lower socio-economic levels may
be disproportionately impacted by intimate
partner violence, the incidence of domestic
violence cuts across all socio-economic strata,
educational levels, and ethnic groups.6 What feeds
the common misperception is the failure to appreciate that individuals with means can more easily
obtain alternative housing and weather the
economic consequences of leaving the home.
They can more adeptly keep the violence a secret.
Statistics on the number of individuals utilizing
the resources of domestic violence shelters is



Washington Lawyer - October 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - October 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Coding Out Implicit Bias With Ai
Rewriting the Rules on Data Privacy
Compromised Devices: Hardware Hacking Dangers
Taking the Stand
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Coding Out Implicit Bias With Ai
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Rewriting the Rules on Data Privacy
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Compromised Devices: Hardware Hacking Dangers
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover4
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