Helping victims escape cycle of violence


Relationships are complex. Friendship, parenting, marriage — any way you slice the relationship pie, you’re bound to get a piece that is chock full of complexities. Now, add abuse to that relationship: physical, mental, economic, emotional, and/or sexual, and you’ve taken the level of complexity to a whole new level — a level some of us don’t understand because we’ve been fortunate enough not to be in abusive relationships.

Sadly though, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. That equates to more than 10 million women and men a year. More often than not too, the abuse is cyclical, meaning it continues to happen in what we call a “cycle of violence.”

The cycle of violence is literally what it sounds like. Imagine a demonstrative wheel (cycle) and at the top of the cycle is the tension stage. In an abusive relationship, tension is building. The victim knows what it is at stake and tries his or her best not to agitate the abuser. Then comes the abusive act — often physical abuse coupled with economic abuse (controlling money), intimidation and/or emotional abuse. Continuing around the wheel then is the reconciliation or “honeymoon” phase. The abuser promises never to abuse his or her partner again and shows extra love and kindness. The victim feels loved and wants (and often forgives) the abuser. Then finally, there is a period of calmness. The abuse is excused or minimized, and the couple continues on as though nothing has happened. Many times, however, the cycle will begin again with tension building from normal everyday life stressors, and then the wheel continues on just as described.

It’s often during the honeymoon, or calm phase, we first get to meet with victims of domestic violence. Law enforcement first arrives on the scene immediately after an abusive incident, and then our office is brought in to help sort out any criminal behavior. Many times, the cycle phase of reconciliation or calm convinces a victim not to participate in prosecution. A victim may even defend of his or her partner who abused them. As prosecutors, we are trained to anticipate that, and it does not mean we simply look the other way. Our training and experience has taught us that the cycle will continue and, at any moment, the abuse could turn deadly. We also know that if the abuse is interrupted for a significant period of time (think incarceration), the victim may have a meaningful chance of escaping the abuse for good. We had just that experience come full circle recently with a victim our office served last year.

This victim did not participate with the prosecution and, in fact, an attorney was even hired to “represent” her. We knew what was really going on behind the scenes (hence “represent” in quotation marks). We all suspected that the attorney “representing” her was selected, bought and paid for by the abuser who was being prosecuted. We also knew this attorney was working with the abuser to keep the victim away from our office. Hardly justice or fairness if you ask me, but this actually happens more than you would think. It’s almost like some form of justice abuse, if I can coin the term, where the justice system is manipulated by abusers to benefit the abuser and to continue to control the victim.

There is very little we can do as prosecutors in a situation such as this without concrete evidence to support our suspicions of witness tampering or intimidation. In this particular case though, our office held strong and ultimately was able to convict this abuser despite the abuser’s shenanigans, and he went to prison. Now, just last week, all of our suspicions were confirmed by the victim. The best part though is that since she has been able to experience complete separation from her abuser since he went to prison, she is free. She herself confirmed our suspicions about the attorney “representing” her from many months ago. The attorney was chosen by, and bought and paid for by the abuser.

This year alone, our office has prosecuted 18 adults for domestic violence-related crimes. We’ve also helped more than 80 citizens file civil protection orders. Remember, in order to be prosecuted in our office for a felony domestic violence or related crime, the suspect must have a prior conviction, the victim is pregnant, or the victim suffered serious physical harm like strangulation, a broken bone, or maybe even abduction or kidnapping for being unable to escape the suspect. Scary stuff! But there is always hope, and there is help and safety right here in our back yard at Turning Point— our local domestic violence shelter.

This past weekend we hosted the second annual Volley Against Violence to help support Turning Point. Volley Against Violence (VAV) is a sand volleyball tournament, and all the proceeds raised go to Turning Point, which has operated in central Ohio for 40-plus years. This year at VAV, we had 129 players, 16 sponsors, and 45 businesses who donated items for raffles.

Turning Point President Amber Scott recently shared a statistic with me that the average length of stay for a family at the shelter is 45 days. This equates to roughly a $15,000 cost to Turning Point to provide safety and shelter for one family. Last week, I was told that our Delaware shelter was nearly full, too. Unfortunately, I can’t say that was surprising to me — domestic violence is here in our community.

So what can you do? Make sure you check in with family and friends, make sure they know you are there to support them, and make sure that they know about Turning Point. Next, if you’re on social media, share some of Turning Point’s social media posts. And if you’re part of an organization, why not have a fundraiser for Turning Point or collect items like toiletries to donate to Turning Point? If nothing else, just believe and be armed with information should someone you love suffer from domestic abuse.

By Melissa A. Schiffel

Contributing columnist

Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.

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