What I wish I would have known when I started my journey from abusive relationship — #TakeActionPodcast with Kati Abi Khaled
I left an unsafe relationship almost 3 years ago. The years before that moment were difficult and traumatic. However, what happened afterwards, is equally important. It deserves to be talked about.
Since then, I have been caught up in the web of social organizations and their processes. Also, the legal processes have taken years to complete. It has been extremely challenging and intimidating.
It is normal that social workers and organizations do not believe in domestic abuse victims. This may come as a surprise.
Instead, victims are being questioned. They are not being taken seriously. Their experiences are ignored. This has happened to me repeatedly. Instead of receiving support and protection, this has caused more traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, this is very common and not accidental.
Consequently, I totally lost my trust in the social workers. They were supposed to help me but instead made my struggle worse. I am very suspicious nowadays. My experience has shown that they are not to be trusted. All the other victims of domestic abuse, who I have met, have confirmed the same.
This gives a horrible feeling of being totally alone. Being surrounded by people who do not have your best interest in mind. Dealing with social organizations has been an extremely scary experience. The trauma it has caused is totally comparable with the trauma of abuse itself.
During my journey, there was a very weak report made by the child protection services. For example, the evidence was ignored. The investigators did not contact the people they were supposed to interview and so on. There were so many that the whole investigation became pretty much useless. Despite the shortcomings, the report was used in the legal process. The child protection services put the children’s long-term safety at risk.
I did file a complaint; however, the damage was already done. Due to the faulty report, the children are still not protected sufficiently. The incompetency of the child protection services was a huge shock for me.
There should always be a way to file a complaint about the lack of support and mistakes. There is always an official process for complaints in every organization. However, this information is not shared with the victims. The problem is a lack of transparency, trust, and professionalism. It creates a long shadow on social organizations.
Of course, I have also met a few very strong and skilled professionals during my journey. They have made a big difference. I will always remember those people. I wish all the people who work with domestic abuse victims would be like that.
The victims should be aware of their legal rights and responsibilities. Or for example, what are the things you do not need to agree with per law? What are the things you should agree with per law?
For example, many expats think they can just take their children and go back to their country of origin. Unfortunately, that kind of an act can lead to horrible consequences where the victim of domestic abuse will be sued for kidnapping the children.
It is also very important to teach the victims how to remain safe. Practical information should be shared as a standard.
For example, what no-contact means, when it is helpful and when it is not helpful. How to prepare for a quick exit from a dangerous situation? What to do if you are being followed? What can the victim do to avoid physical stalking or cyberstalking?
It is important to share information about cyberstalking and digital violence. What it is and how to prevent it?
There are many cases when the abuser has used spyware and managed to hack into the victim’s private bank accounts or social media accounts. But there are also ways to prevent this. It is important that this kind of support is made available to the victims.
Victims should be educated as soon as possible about collecting hard evidence.
What can be used as evidence? How to collect it in a safe way and with who to share it?
After the victim has reached out for help and is not in immediate danger, it may be already too late to collect hard evidence. Of course, it is still possible but the earlier the better. This kind of knowledge would carry a long way during the legal process.
The victims should be educated on how to get legal help and how to get subsidized legal support.
Many victims are housewives, taking care of and protecting the children. Often the perpetrator has isolated the victim. Therefore, she does not have a strong social network, or she is not able to work. Financial abuse is in many cases a part of domestic violence. Therefore, victims do not have the financial means to reach out to a lawyer. It makes it very difficult for the victims to change their situation.
Luckily there is subsidized legal help available in many countries. However, if the victim is not able to read and speak the local language well, it is very hard to find this information. It can be a challenge even for a native speaker.
Unfortunately, the social workers are not educating the victims about safety and legal matters. Even if they would have information, it is somehow not carried out to the victims. This is a huge problem with serious consequences.
In many countries, the social organizations are lacking resources, education, and staff. This results in widespread problems. Calls and emails are not answered in a timely manner. The investigations are not done properly. Official reports are not factual. Waiting lists to receive help are too long.
The victims of abuse are not receiving the help they need in a timely manner and their safety is at risk. Further, this enables the perpetrators to carry on various forms of post-separation abuse.
In general, there is a lot of confusion about what can be done, what cannot be done and what are the consequences of the actions. The schools, daycare centres, employers, social workers, GPs, baby’s consultation office workers, and nurses should be informed and educated about domestic abuse.
There is a general lack of understanding of the nature of domestic abuse, trauma, different forms of abuse, and consequences on the children.
For example, in my case, the school gave incorrect information to the child protection services. The school also leaked confidential information to third parties.
It was harmful to my process and very traumatizing to me personally. Of course, I did file a complaint. However, it took several attempts to get an official apology and corrections from the school. I think they were not fully aware of their actions and of the consequences. I hope this was a learning experience for the school and they will not make the same mistake again.
Addressing the issues within social organizations that deal with domestic abuse, is mostly a political decision. These kinds of large-scale changes take a lot of time. However, it is great that the topic is covered often in the media. There is still a long way from media attention to actual improvement.
Therefore, it is vital that the issues with child protection services and other organizations are kept on addressed and continuously reviewed. Only criticizing the organizations does not help, they also need to have proper tools and means to do their work properly and protect the victims.
I would urge people working with the victims of domestic abuse to believe their clients. Nobody ends up in that situation just for fun. Neutrality does not help the victims; it just enables the perpetrators to carry on with different forms of abuse.
I would encourage the victims to reach out for legal support and educate themselves about their legal responsibilities and rights.
Be prepared for a long road after leaving an abusive relationship. Make sure you have a strong support network. Invest in yourself and in your well-being because you will need a lot of resilience.