Doctor, you are the gatekeeper for domestic violence in your community

by Jeanne King, Ph.D. — 

Abuse is fundamentally about control, and so is litigation. Two parties battling in a legal action are essentially fighting for control — and the perpetrator thrives in this arena.

Abuse is fundamentally about control, and so is litigation. Two parties battling in a legal action are essentially fighting for control — and the perpetrator thrives in this arena.

Kind, compassionate Dr. X examines his bruised patient — a victim of domestic violence — and confidently breathes a sigh of relief thinking, “Thank God, she admitted it. Now all she needs is a barracuda attorney to get her and her children to safe waters.”

Not necessarily so! A barracuda attorney could usher her and her children from the frying pan into the fire. This is an ugly secret many people know only from having been there or from watching another get burned.

One of the most dangerous myths about family violence is that family court will protect victims of domestic abuse. In truth, this court can be used as a vehicle for the continuation of the abuse dynamic.

Abuse is fundamentally about control, and so is litigation. Two parties battling in a legal action are essentially fighting for control — and the perpetrator thrives in this arena. When there is a gross income disparity between the parties and when the perpetrator controls the family finances, the perpetrator can easily control the litigation, because he who pays is in the driver’s seat.

He can taunt, torment and terrorize his victim, using financial starve-out tactics, legal/psychological ploys, or the threat of custody litigation. Abusers know that nothing will devastate their victim more than seeing their children endangered, so they use the threat of obtaining custody to extract agreements to their liking. And, such behavior can go on indefinitely.

When we couple the pathology of a batterer with an economically driven industry, we end up with the most perverted, self-sustaining abuse dynamic imaginable: victim-survivors tied to their perpetrators and helpless abused children placed into the hands of their batterers. Sadly, this occurs nationwide for women whose children are sexually assaulted, women whose children are physically beaten on a regular basis and children who run away. These children and their defender parents are not guaranteed protection in family court.

That does not mean they won’t get it; rather it means they cannot assume they will get it. Yet, patients and their healthcare providers often unknowingly believe that protection from the court is automatic.

Domestic violence requires specialized intervention, and family court is not the forum in which to obtain it. Family court is about splitting up the property and separating the people, without holding anyone accountable for their behavior during the marriage. And without accountability, domestic violence continues.

Doctor, you are the gatekeeper for domestic violence in your community. You are the one who has the opportunity to see domestic violence in its early stages of progression. And once you’ve seen it, you make the referrals. Refer your patient to a domestic violence advocate, first — and also to the appropriate parties, given the regulations of your state and the organization in which you operate.

 

Jeanne King, Ph.D., helps healthcare providers recognize domestic violence and interface effectively with patients who may be victims of violence. She is a seasoned psychologist, published author and leading expert in identifying the subtle communication patterns of battering relationships. 888-782-0723 or www.DrJeanneKing.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 5, October/November 2005.

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