Today I have the honor of interviewing a woman who is a survivor in all meanings of that word. Kathy Lockhart is a professional Registered Nurse with a Master's Degree in Psychiatric Nursing from the University of Virginia and a Master's Degree in Public Administration from California State University, East Bay.
She became interested in domestic violence after being in an abusive relationship. She has been an active volunteer for a community Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Hotline for the past 14 years and is an advocate for victims of domestic violence and rape. She knows Domestic Violence can happen to anyone. She is a living example of how women can break free from abuse and live a meaningful life.
Question: When a young woman who has been beaten by her husband calls your hotline as a lifeline, what do you tell her?
Kathy Lockhart: I first tell her she is not alone and we are here to help her get through this difficult time. Then I determine whether or not she is still in a dangerous situation. Where is the abuser? Does she need to call 911 at that time? Does she need for me to call 911 for her? Is she still in imminent danger?
If the abuser has left the scene, I let the victim talk about what just happened. This allows her the opportunity to get out the anxiety, the fear and guilt that the victim always feels like he/she did something wrong to cause the event.
Since it seems most of the victims that call the hotline have children at home, I have them call 911 and report the event to the police and they are also able to get medical help that way. They don't have to pack up kids and drive themselves to the local hospital. The police can also see the crime scene and what else has been destroyed during the altercation.
But first and foremost is always making sure that the victim is safe in their present surroundings.
Question: What are some safety precautions battered wives can take?
K.L.: We tell Victims of Domestic Abuse:
- Always have a safety plan. That includes having an emergency plan for when he gets violent. Save enough money from paychecks or allowances she might receive to get to a safe place. Hide car keys and house keys. Hide change of clothes for herself and children preferable away from the home. Have emergency numbers, including the number of a shelter, handy. Have a signal set up for the neighbor, relatives and friends to alert them when violence occurs. Develop a code the children can learn that signals that things are serious, when to leave the house, and where to go that is safe. Teach older children how to call the police when they see or hear violence.
- Hide important documents in a safe place: marriage license, social security cards, birth certificates. Make them accessible to take in an emergency exit. If possible, rent a separate safe deposit box and put those papers in it, including immunization records, children's school records, lease agreements, passports, pay stubs from the abuser's employment, insurance information.
- Keep with you at all times: your driver's license, credit cards, ATM card, cash, cell phone, and spare change for phone calls if you don't have a cell phone.
- Learn how to block calls on cell phone.
- Tell a friend, neighbor, family member what is going on.
- Never share her emergency plan with the ABUSER.
- I tell the victim that men who abuse only become more abusive over time. The violence only gets worse. I explain the cycle of violence and help her understand that she has not done anything that deserves another person to physically or mentally harm her (or him).
- We explain to the victim how to get a restraining order, what that involves, and how to keep one safe after getting a restraining order.
- Pack and hide a suitcase. Always be ready to exit the back door if needed.
Question: Do you think that verbal attacks are just as damaging (psychologically especially) as physical ones?
K.L.: Abuse is usually a slow insidious process that never starts out with a toxic relationship. On the contrary, the abuser is often charming, engaging, and very attentive to the victim. Most describe meeting their "prince charming." Whether that prince charming ends up breaking her arm, or constantly telling her she is a fat pig that no other man would ever want, can't be measured on a "damage scale." However, both kinds of abuse result with a woman being controlled, devalued, disrespected, belittled, threatened and completely beaten down. She ends up having little if any self esteem, anxiety, psychosocial and medical problems. She is isolated from families and friends. She is often depressed and scared to even tell anyone what is going on in her world.
The strike of the tongue can be just as damaging as the strike of the fist.
Question: Where can a battered woman get the support she needs?
K.L.: There is a lot of assistance available for domestic violence victims today.
- In the State of Maryland and many other states there is Crime Victims Assistance, which provides financial assistance for innocent victims of crime. One can get Protective Orders/Restraint Orders to stop the violence, remove the abuser from the home, give temporary custody to the children, and even order the abuser to attend counseling.
- There is a National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, DC at 202-543-5533. In Maryland, every county has a Domestic Violence Hotline available to help victims of Domestic Violence and Rape. Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence 1-800-MD-HELPS.
- Washington DC District of Colombia coalition Hotline is 202-333-STOP. Virginians Against Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-838-8238.
- There is a National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.
- Deaf Abused Women's Network 202-721-8293
- Where I live, we have the following County Hotlines: Baltimore County: 410-828-6390, Anne Arundel County: 410-222-6800, Montgomery county: 240-777-4673, Prince Georges County: 301-731-1203.
Hotlines are able to provide victims with referrals to legal resources, shelters, counseling, medical assistance, transitional and temporary housing and host of other resources.
Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com. Therese J. Borchard writes the daily blog, "Beyond Blue," on Beliefnet.com and is author of "Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes" and "The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit." Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.