It could be because I’ve been focusing on Domestic Violence this month a little more than usual. Sure I’ve noted Domestic Violence Awareness Month each year, but this year, I’ve received information about DV while also searching for statistics as well as stories.
I don’t have to go too far to find someone I know. Even in high school one of my best friends confided in me that her boyfriend liked to hurt her. I advised her then to stop seeing him. It took a few more times of him “hurting” her before she finally did.
Then in my late twenties, one of my dear friends moved out of town to be with her “dreamy” boyfriend. Through the grapevine I heard that she was being abused. I called her up at work and asked if this was true. She didn’t want to talk about it. That was ok, I didn’t give up. Eventually I went to visit her, and meet him. At first glance, he seemed dashing and quite charming. I could see the attraction. Later though when we “girls” stayed up late chatting into the wee hours, I learned the truth. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to move her back home – while he was away.
And then there’s the pro bono work I did in law school. A friend and I volunteered with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program to assist the grant-sponsored Sistercare legal advocacy program. Our role was limited – we, advocate/law students, couldn’t represent the victims in court, but we could meet with them, complete the questionnaire with them, hand them tissues, hold their hands and hug them. They told us that they appreciated our help.
And one time, the attorney supervisor had another engagement and wasn’t able to appear with one of the victims. The victim, a mild-mannered woman who had been married 30+ years to the man, wasn’t able to afford an attorney. And she had nobody else to go with her into the courtroom. The volunteers were not allowed to represent the victims but were allowed to accompany them into the courtroom.
So I went. I was a little nervous. A little scared. After all, the husband was there. And so was his attorney. And then I had my “aha” moment (as Oprah calls them) – if I was nervous, how did the victim feel?
When the judge asked everyone to identify ourselves, I noted that I was the advocate and unable to represent the woman next to me. The judge allowed me to stay.
The hearing took about 15 minutes. It was evident that the woman didn’t know how to defend her claim. And I was just there to offer her a friendly hand.
After the hearing we went into the hall, where it was TENSE. The woman and I spoke on one side of the hall. The husband and his attorney spoke on the other side. I remember her telling me “I have to go back. He has all the money. I haven’t worked in 30+ years. He said it will be ok.”
I watched as she left me and walked over to her much taller, larger husband. They embraced. I felt alone and demoralized. I don’t know what she felt.
Every now and then I think about her. Is she ok? I’ll probably never know.