This week, I didn't work with the kids at the DV shelter because my husband was having back surgery that morning. I did miss the kids, the long-time babysitter,the volunteers, having supper with the women and kids beforehand.
But that "outpatient" back surgery became 3 days in the hospital with my husband when he developed a complication and subsequently required many tests. This unexpected,intense time with him was no doubt very different from what most domestic violence shelter women would experience if suddenly "closeted" with their partners.
He was assigned to a double room after surgery with a man who'd come in the night before with a perforated appendix. The other man's wife and I, able to hear any conversation behind the curtains,soon realized we both loved our husbands,felt they'd always been there for us and it was our turn to be there for them.
Occasionally, a woman or kids/teens at the shelter tell me their "first partner" or "first dad" was a good man and that's why they're here. They don't want the "new" man/dad's bad treatment and they've LEFT him, for good. These are the exceptions, though. Most of the women and kids I've met at the shelter are more likely to be depressed, scared, and ambivalent about leaving the abuser for good.
Before you judge them, though, remember these important facts (gleaned from my work at the shelter,as well as DV training, reading/participating in DV Netsites, and much research):
DOMESTIC/DATING VIOLENCE ABUSERS can be:
Very intelligent, extremely manipulative, experts at "mind games," inconsistent, volatile and cruel though they start out loving and nurturing, have plenty of self-control when their job or an outside relationship is at stake, obsessed (sometimes to a psychotic degree) with controlling their wife, vengeful when their victims leave, are extremely good liars and actors, may be armed with guns, knives,and other weapons, and may threaten not just their partner but family pets,their own children, and the loss of the woman's custody of her children.
Add to this the victim's previous life experiences which may have included some kind of victimization, and a current existence full of uncertainty, fear,abuse so constant she no longer knows who she is, and you have someone with few options, especially if s/he has not been allowed to complete their education, get a job or keep the money they earn.
Almost as soon as this woman and I met in our husbands' shared hospital room, we knew we were among the blessed. Our husbands DESERVED our love, care, and concern.
We cared for them gladly and would do it again.
Victims of significant domestic or dating violence, however, may be forced to take care of someone who hurts them. They may not choose to do so. They may also be so traumatized by abuse that they cannot think clearly enough to make what many consider an obvious or self-preserving choice. (Just leave!)
Don't judge them, however, unless you've suffered what they have. It helps much more if you suspect a woman is in danger to listen, be non-judgmental, offer her a place to stay or a Domestic Violence Hotline number.
Don't tell her she must leave if she divulges her situation to you.
Don't imply she's crazy if she stays.
No one is as crazy as the abusers. Read the paper. Watch TV. Visit DV Netsites.
Then do something to help. And don't, above all, give these women advice or "attitude" that may further victimize them.