An escape route for victims of domestic violence

Victims of domestic abuse have resources available that can ultimately result in survival

by MICHELLE SCHMITT

A woman is a victim of domestic violence every 15 minutes, according to a 2007 report done by Draper City Crime Victim Services.

Such victims can receive help from Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, which is an organization that focuses on family safety and is designed to help victims through a complicated court system. One resource Legal Aid Society assists with is preparing victims with a plan for escape in case an attacker comes after them.

“It’s one of the greatest parts of the service we [provide],” said Stewart Ralphs, executive director of Legal Aid Society.

Ralphs referred to the getaway route as “practical steps for an escape plan,” which can include anything from locking doors, to having a designated window that is best for escape, to always having packed bags that are ready to go.

Ned Searle, a representative with the Utah Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said when intuition tells you to leave it is important to be prepared.

Searle suggested that victims be prepared with medical records, credit cards and jewelry, among other things. He said that even taking something as seemingly inconsequential as a disposable camera can make the transition easier for a family that had to flee in the face of danger. Many people take photos of everyday events, so having a camera can help increase normalcy for a family that is surviving an unstable condition.

Other things people often forget to include with items they are prepared to take with them are family photos, an extra car key and anything that may offer a sense of ordinariness.

Searle recalled a neighbor whose husband was stalking her after their divorce. While he wanted his neighbor to be ready to leave if a dangerous situation occurred, Searle also knew he had to handle the circumstance carefully.

“I didn’t want to scare her,” Searle said. He said there is a fine line between scaring a victim and encouraging the victim of domestic abuse to be prepared for the worst.

Ralphs and Searle agree that issues of domestic violence are rarely, if ever, solved on their own. Searle said dangerous situations can spiral downward and lead to more abuse, while Ralphs said domestic violence never decreases.

“I probably get one or two victims a year” who should devise an escape route, Searle said. He added that most are frustrated with the system.

Many victims are fed up that their abuser has more money and hence more resources that make the offender better able to work within the court system, Searle said.

But Ralphs said domestic violence victims can receive legal help through Legal Aid Society.

“I get to level the playing field [and] I love being able to represent people,” Ralphs said. “Sometimes it is the first time in my client’s life that someone will stick up for them.”

Searle was careful to note that few mistakes are made by the victims of domestic violence; most know to call 911 and seek help. One piece of advice he has for victims is to trust the small intuitive voice and listen if that voice tells you to leave.

“I think people in domestic violence situations [stay] because they have been beaten down so low in self-esteem and self-worth that they don’t think they can [leave],” Searle said.

Victims of domestic violence face many psychological, legal and safety challenges. Children are often involved too, which exacerbates already dangerous and stressful problems.

“Children are always [victims of domestic violence]; if they are not the primary victim, they are the secondary victim,” Ralphs said.

The Utah Domestic Violence Council (UDVC) supports Ralphs’ concern about children in violent situations and advises parents to inform their children not to get involved during a domestic dispute.

A complete safety plan for those who intend on leaving an abuser can be found on the UDVC Web site.

The plan provides a checklist for necessary identification, financial and legal papers, as well as any medications, phone numbers and personal items that need to be compiled and ready to go in case an attacker comes looking for their victim.

In addition, UDVC lists comprehensive tips and necessary information that is useful for anyone involved in a dangerous domestic dispute.