October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is the time to honor victims and increase awareness of the impact in our community. Before you continue reading, please be aware that what follows may be triggering for some. I am sharing my story to demonstrate resilience and bring hope to those still impacted. I am able to lead a full, happy life, but my account could have changed at any moment, as it has for the hundreds of persons killed through family and intimate partner violence this year.
One of the most significant barriers to overcome when leaving a domestic violence situation tends to be navigating the complex system of services necessary to return to everyday life. Yet, none of these services are easy to understand, with little resources to know how the system interacts with each other. I have the advantage of understanding the system better than most due to the nature of work I am in, yet over the two years after leaving an abusive home with my two children, I still struggled with a rotating door of social workers, unempathetic law enforcement, and a complex court system.
Before sharing my experiences, I want to reflect that these alone are my experiences in this system. This is not a reflection on the individuals I encountered; my purpose is to shed light on the more significant, more complex systematic challenges.
While still living in the home, at one point, someone called the police to visit us. After a long burst of him throwing our son’s toys through the television and screaming at me and our toddler, I was trying to stop him from taking our toddler and driving off angrily. I knew he wasn’t in the best mindset, and it wasn’t a safe moment for our son to be in the car. The officers, as they arrived, told me to stop crying and to stop being the victim. No resources, no sympathy.
Upon leaving the home, I sought a temporary restraining order. After this man threatened to kill me and kidnap our children, I sought law enforcement services to provide the summons. I’ll never forget shaking, crying, and juggling two toddlers while filling out the paperwork; the court worker demanded that I return her pen to her. Walking two blocks from the law enforcement station, I explained my situation, and the officer asked if it was severe. He suggested that I wasn’t really in danger and that I should have someone else serve him. It took me begging to have it served by that officer. 23% of intimate partner homicides are committed within two days of a restraining order being placed.
We spent the following year in a drawn-out custody battle, being stalled by several new custody cases being filed by him in different ways with different courts. During mediation, the mediator asked if there were any safety concerns. Upon expressing everything that had been going on, explaining the restraining order, their father’s recent relapse, and the investigations, the mediator expressed, “But it’s not that serious, right?”
Things felt like they continued to fall upon deaf ears; no matter how often or how openly I explained my situation, it never seemed like anyone that I spoke to in the justice system took me and my children seriously. I learned to advocate and stand up for myself in a very open and straightforward way. Still, unfortunately, even that is not enough sometimes. We fought hard to return to normalcy. We’ve been consistent in therapy and doing things that bring us joy. For the first time in my children’s lives, there are no holes in the wall and no more broken televisions. For the first time, they experienced a peaceful and calm home, but that is something we had to fight for ourselves, not something the system had given us.
There are still millions of families experiencing this type of abuse, yet most are not able to navigate the complex social services system meant to protect them. Funding of critical organizations, such as the Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center, is crucial to supporting victims needed to navigate through the complexities.
If you or anyone you know require help, call their 24-hour hotline at (951) 686 – RAPE (7273).