A year ago, I started writing my 7th Lizzie Crenshaw book, Death Vetoes the Chairman. I never intended for it to take the serious turn that it did. My stories are usually filled with lighthearted humor, and that is still there in this book. But when I sent the first few chapters to my beta readers, one of them sent me a message: “I’ve been through this.” After she told me what had happened to her, I realized that this was a story that needed to be told. I asked for her advice every step of the way, so all of Lizzie’s reactions, as well as those of her family and friends, are genuine. To be clear, I’ve never been through anything like this myself. My parents had a wonderful, loving marriage for almost forty years, and my husband and I have been happily married for almost thirteen years. So sexual harassment and sexual assault are things that I know very little about.
When the book came out in July, the messages I got were mostly positive. One note came from a friend of mine who is a victim’s advocate in a domestic violence shelter. She told me that the book was very good. When I contacted her last week, she was more than willing to answer some questions for me.
Q: How often do women come to you for help, only to return to their previous situation?
A: It varies for each woman. Some it will only take once, and those are very rare. Most women it takes several times, and even three or more trips to the ER and to shelters before they finally have the courage to leave. Many times it’s due to the fact that the abuser is controlling the money and the transportation.
Q: Are there enough shelters?
A: No, and what shelters there are just aren’t big enough.
Q: And of course, not enough money. If you had a wish list, what would be on it?
A: The shelter my mom worked at (she’s a retired victim’s advocate) was a former nursing home. It gives the women and their children their own room and bathroom. Having a personal place to put your toothbrush and to hang a wet towel is very precious.
Q: How often does the abuser find out which shelter the women are at?
A: Turning Point in Marion, Ohio is a public shelter now. It used to be a private shelter, and if law enforcement brought a victim there, they had to do it in civilian vehicles.
Q: Why is it a public shelter now?
A: Because their security is much better than what it was before they moved. It puts it in the public eye, and it has fewer abuser incidents as well.
Q: Do you think more shelters should become public?
A: Personally, yes, I do. The public actually helps to keep an eye on the shelter as they drive by.
Q: So what is the difference between domestic violence and sexual harassment/assault?
A: Domestic violence is between two people who are in a personal relationship, whether they are dating or married. Sexual harassment can also happen between two people in a relationship, but normally happens when the people are either just acquaintances or strangers, and involves no sex, but mainly words and actions. Sexual assault is the politically correct term for rape.
Q: Can one lead to the other?
A: Yes, and that is normally how domestic violence starts.
Q: So it can start as sexual harassment, escalate to rape, and end with domestic violence?
A: Rape is domestic violence when it happens between a couple in a relationship.
Q: But isn’t rape harder to prove when the couple is married?
A: It can be, and that is where people like my mom, who works as a victim’s advocate, come in and help. It normally starts with a civil protection order (CPO), and then goes from there.
Q: Tell me what a victim’s advocate does.
A: A victim’s advocate is just that. They help the victim by guiding them through the court system, and helping them find a safe place, both mentally and physically.
Q: Do victim’s advocates also work with rape victims?
A: Domestic violence advocates do if it was their spouse/boyfriend/significant other.
Q: How often are men victims of domestic violence?
A: About a tenth of what women are, and many of them do not report it.
Me: Well, no guy wants it known that they were beaten up by a woman, any more than a woman wants people to know that they were beaten up by a man. There’s that stigma…not to mention the looks they get. Those sad, sympathetic looks.
Q: So, if I want to have my main character, Lizzie, open up a women’s shelter, what does she need? Victims’ advocates, counselors, a big house…certainly pastors can also help with counseling.
A: A director, financial officer of some kind, a volunteer coordinator, lots of volunteers, and a big house! And yes, pastors can be helpful, but many shelters have counselors that work specifically with domestic violence.
Q: What about resources for the children?
A: A whole new kettle of fish. Turning Point will help with putting the kids into school, or setting them up with online schooling.
Q: What kind of issues do the children have?
A: Nightmares, severe acting out, defiance syndrome, bed wetting…the list can be huge.
Q: How much time are the women allowed to spend at the shelter? Is there a time limit?
A: The residential time limit is different with each shelter. It can depend on how many cases and how much room is at the shelter.
Q: What else should I know?
A: It is a very stressful situation that takes a lot of guts to get out of.
Q: A lot of women are too scared to make that move, aren’t they?
A: Yes, they are!
Q: For the ones that do leave, what is usually the thing that pushes them over that line? That tells them it’s time to get help?
A: It is when they finally decide that they are worth the effort to get out.
Q: Is there anything that you would want people to know?
A: To be patient if they know someone in a domestic violence situation. Give them support and a safe place, be it mental or physical.
Q: How are is it to get financial support for shelters?
A: Many are part of United Way, or part of another charity. Ours was started by our local churches.
Q: So there aren’t many privately financed shelters?
A: Not too many that I know of.
Q: How many woman are in a shelter at one time? I guess that would depend on the size, right?
A: The size would dictate that. We actually cover a seven county area. Our county alone has 63,000 in population, so one shelter is enough. But severe cases may be sent to larger cities.
Once I realized the direction my story was taking, I got very nervous. I wasn’t sure how people would react to one of my books tackling a serious social topic. But it is one that needs to be talked about, be it through a fictional character, or by articles like this. Men, women and children find themselves in situations like this every hour of every day. And it’s not going to go away. We can sit and pretend that it’s not there, bury our heads in the sand and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Or we can try to help.
Be a volunteer. There are some links at the end of this article. Check them out; find out what you can do to help. I did ask my friend if she had thought about starting a Prayer Shawl Ministry for her shelter, and she told me her church already does this, and provides shawls for the women who come to the shelter. If you can knit and/or crochet, then you can take part in this ministry.
If you know a friend who is in a dangerous situation, provide them a safe place if you can. Don’t push them to leave on your time schedule. Leaving is a difficult decision, and it may take several times of them leaving and going back, before they leave for good. If the abuser has control of the finances, then they will have to find the resources to help them. Mostly, they need love and support, not questions and condemnation.
Above all else, please remember that while you may feel like a victim for a while once you do get out, YOU ARE A SURVIVOR. There is help. When you’re ready, make sure that you are in a safe location before reaching out. Erase all the phone numbers from your call history, and clean your browsing history on your computer, so that your partner won’t know what you are doing.
Just reach out. There will be someone there to grab your hand and help you through the storm.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline – www.thehotline.org
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) – www.ncadv.org
Love is Respect – www.loveisrespect.org
The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence – www.ncdsv.org
The Domestic Violence Shelter – thedvshelter.com
No More – nomore.org