Many of us are brought up with the belief that we should be able to trust our family for everything, our safety, security, emotional and physical well being but for some of us, the family has proven to be the most hurtful and even most dangerous battle ground we will ever encounter. Survivors and family violence advocates can attest to this all the time, making it almost become a myth that the family is the safest environment. I’ve talked to many people who have shared their deep, painful pasts about loved ones, mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses who have betrayed them through abuse. When a family member abuses you, it becomes an unsettling, traumatic experience to say the least. We feel that we can no longer trust others and ask ourselves how can we ever trust others again?
So what happens if you ask for help or just mere moral support from a family member to get you through or even after the abuse, only for you to learn they too cannot be trusted, that they actually went to the abuser and disclosed private information about you? At that point you don’t know all that has been said but through some event, you learn that this once trusted family member has indeed betrayed your trust and with the abuser of all people. This revelation burns at your core and eats away at you, perhaps making you feel vulnerable. It makes you wonder if they ever believed you in the first place. It re-victimizes you.
Whether the offending family member ever believed the abuse did occur or not does not matter at this point. You now have an obligation to yourself to remain physically and emotionally safe from any further abuse. You also have to wonder how many people have lost their lives to abusers, not because the system failed but because family members failed and failed miserably, either by calling the abuser, writing them or even befriending them on social media sites, disclosing personal information about you. What I have found about people who are so willing to go to abusers, and violate your trust as the victim, is they are often susceptible at being manipulated and victimized as well. In this case, they have been manipulated by the abuser, charmed into gaining the abuser’s trust so the abuser can acquire more information about you. All the abuser wants to do is continue his bondage and control over you and the family member is allowing themselves to be used as a tool.
Abusers rarely stop abusing; they rarely stop victimizing and abuse is like an addiction. If you take away the drug of abuse, all the abuser wants is to go back and abuse more. They get an adrenaline high from controlling and hurting the object of their abuse, the victim. Abusers never completely let go and let’s face it, someone who has lived their life in attempts to psychologically and physically control others isn’t just going to give it up. It’s an addiction.
So, as a survivor, you’ve worked hard to get away from this abusive person and you’re thrown this curve ball by a family member you thought you could trust who goes back to the abuser and discloses information about you, your whereabouts, address, pictures, updates on your lifestyle, work, new friends and acquaintances, etc. What do you do? How do you handle this? With all cards put aside, now you are left with a dynamic shift in your relationship with the family member or even friend. There are four things I want to share that I believe may help you:
1. Remember your safety is first and foremost – When someone discloses personal information about you to the abuser, you can never guarantee from that point on what that person says is truth. You can only assume and assumptions are not good enough when it comes to your life. Take all necessary steps to find out as much as you can from the family member in terms of what they repeated back to the abuser. From there take the necessary actions to be extra cautious, either way. Change your phone number, email address, driving routes, ask for a schedule change at work if possible, increase security at your home or even move. You may have to notify a neighbor to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and don’t neglect to notify your local police depending on the severity of your circumstance with the abuser.
2. Remember you have a right to your privacy that not even the police have the right to disclose your whereabouts – The family member who chose to share personal information about you has taken a liberty upon themselves that even the police nor a private investigator cannot do under law and that’s disclose someone’s whereabouts and other data without that person’s consent or without a court order. What the family member did was wrong and there is nothing that can justify it. Whether the breach in your privacy occurred because of their lack of judgment or because of malice does not matter. Again your safety is first and foremost beyond their motives.
3. Give a written warning and perhaps a verbal warning to the family member or friend – Let the family member know what they did was wrong, they are not to divulge personal information about you and if you have warned them before about your right to privacy, remind them again. State specifically, ‘I do not want you sharing my information to anyone about me without my consent, not even to people you believe I may know and not even to my abuser.’ Also let them know that if you are hurt as a result of their actions with the abuser or the abuser’s acquaintances, they can be held legally responsible for your endangerment.
4. Distance yourself from that family member or friend who breached your trust – It’s obvious they lack the necessary concern, discernment and care they need to have for your situation so again, for your safety, it may be more than wise to eliminate any further communication with the family member. As mentioned before, you may have to change your phone number, email, work schedule, etc.
The scars left behind by abusers run deep no matter if the abuse was physical or non-physical. NO ONE has the right to make any decision on your behalf, especially when it comes to your personal and private information. Be careful who you speak with and what you say to them or what you post online, even to family members. Know that your life, happiness and well being is precious and extremely valuable. No one has the right to take that away from you and you have rights even when it comes to family.
When do abusers stop abusing? The answer is when they get good and ready to. The choice to abuse another human being is a choice of the will just like any other decision in life. For many abusers, it’s even one step further than a choice, it’s an actual addiction; an addiction to control another human being, an addiction to feel superior and an addiction to see another person suffer. Just as some people are addicted to making others feel great about themselves, and we call these folks givers, there are some who are addicted to making other people feel awful by inflicting pain and we call them abusers. The pain they inflict can come in many forms; it just depends on the choice or method they desire to use. Some abusers use verbal, others emotional, some psychological, some financial (like stealing money, scam artists, swindlers, controlling the money of those they love for ill intentions) and some are sexually and physically abusive.
Victims of abuse often find themselves in seemingly endless cycles, especially when the abuse is from an intimate partner or even a family member, debating whether they should leave or stay. Some hope and pray that the abuser will change but the truth is, the abuser will only stop when they’ve had enough of the abusing themselves. There’s no set time table and there’s no telling when they will make the choice to end the abuse, especially if the abuser is addicted to abusing or perhaps pathological to some extent. Just like we who are caring individuals have free choice to make healthy, wholesome decisions in life, abusers choose to mistreat others (and that’s saying it gently).
So if you’re debating today whether you should leave a relationship with abuse, the answer is Yes but you need to have a safety plan. Whenever the object of an abuser’s world is removed from them and if the abuse is an addiction to them, they will go after that “object”, You. Remember, abuse is about control and when the abuser feels they have lost that control they will fight to get it back as no one in their good mind or bad mind wants to feel like they’ve lost control. The way they “fight” back however is with battering and sometimes murder.
So I encourage you to visit the links below on safety planning. It’s also best that you work with a local domestic violence advocate who can point you in the direction of resources like Confidentiality Programs. They can also advise you of your rights in obtaining a restraining order against the abuser and where the closest safe houses are for you.
Also, please watch the following video and learn more about how to further protect yourself and your family with the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit at www.susanmurphymilano.com .Vodpod videos no longer available.
You deserve to be happy and live a life where you are respected, loved and safe. Don’t wait for your abuser to change because the truth is, they won’t anytime soon and more than likely never will. Take the steps that you need for yourself and your family to move on and do it with a safety plan.
It’s been almost 11 years ago that I met a beautiful young man who was dying of cancer at the tender age of 18. I had heard about his struggle with cancer in the local newspaper and new that someone needed to reach out to him and his family. I was working a full time job then so I asked my preacher at the time if he would pay this young man a visit and he promised me he would. After 2 or 3 weeks had gone by, I learned that my preacher had not kept his word and I became livid. ‘Why am I giving this man my tithe money when he can’t even get his ass in the car and visit someone who is sick as the rest of us are at work struggling to make a living?’ I thought.
I then made the decision to make the visit myself and I asked another church member, who knew the family of the young man, if she would go with me to visit them after I got off from work. She agreed and in the cold and chill of December, we drove down an old, back country road to a white cottage in the darkness of the night out in the woods. Once we arrived at the home, we were met by some of the friendliest of people, given the circumstances. The new friend that I met that night, who I always call now my Charlie, was laying in the living room on his hospital bed, connected to a morphine pump as his source of pain relief and sustenance.
What happened that night I have never forgotten as I watched this young man, who did not have much left to his frail being, wake from his sleep and he began speaking to me, though he couldn’t see me as the cancer had taken most of his sight. We talked and I learned about his favorite instrument, his favorite sport, even his favorite flower. I also prayed with him that night asking God to be by his side and Charlie received assurance that he would go to meet his Maker. Minutes later, he drifted back to sleep but before he did, I gave him a red Bible.
Charlie died three days later on December 26th and after speaking with his mother after the funeral had taken place, I learned that he was buried with the same Bible I had given him. I also learned from his mother that the visit I had paid him gave him renewed strength that she had not seen from him in a while. He was a more cheerful person in his last three days, making mention of me several times and wanting to know where his Bible was. On Christmas day, after weeks of not eating because of the effects from the morphine, he awoke asking to get dressed and ate his last meal ever with his family. I didn’t know that the time I had left to reach him wasn’t that long. I didn’t know that Charlie was on the verge of death the night we went to see him. The local newspaper had minimized the state of his condition.
Just like my angel, Charlie, whose life was claimed by a gruesome disease called cancer, there are many victims of domestic violence who are also on the verge of death. If you and I don’t get to them, don’t talk to them, don’t reach out to them soon, and just wait for other people and organizations to do the work when you and I are just as capable, then it just may be too late. If we can save them or offer some kind of hope to help them move on and be empowered to take the next steps, then we’ve done our job.
I know my Charlie died, but he needed someone to come to him and give him some kind of hope as his fate was near. For those who are being victimized by domestic violence, they still have a fighting chance, however, and that’s the point I want to get across today.
So I challenge all of us who are fighting for the rights of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault to crime victimization, please remember that each person deserves the help and support. It’s not too late. Each person deserves to be kept safe from their abuser and out of harm’s way with whatever it takes. Judges, prosecutors, police officers and advocates reading this, ask yourselves are your departments doing all they can do to protect victims? Politicians and legislators, are you passing laws to keep victims safe or what’s holding you back from making the right decisions to protect your citizens? Is it that one little clause in a bill that needs to be modified that’s preventing you from voting on it? If so, then for Heaven’s sake come to a compromise, get it changed and pass that bill! And family, friends, co-workers, what’s keeping you from talking to the person you love or know about getting help as they are being abused?
If all of us wait for the next guy to come around, just like the lazy preacher I once had, what we’re called to do by Divine Intervention, Providence or Karma will never happen. So let’s take the time to make this coming holiday and new year a time to be more proactive in our fight for all of humanity. There are some things we just know we must do that are right. Someone needs you. Don’t let anything hold you back.
~Dedicated to my Charlie. Called home to be with his Maker December 26, 1999.~