Aug 2018

In The Know

Our August In the Know: A Survivor’s Perspective blog comes from Selina Deveau. As is unfortunately common, after escaping sex trafficking, she found herself in a relationship filled with domestic violence. Her blog speaks to the devastation of that violence.

“It takes courage to bring the darkness into light”

It takes great strength to stand up against someone you fear. It takes faith in our justice system and law enforcement that they will protect you and your children from any further abuse. It takes hope for a new life, free of anger and violence; and, most importantly, it takes a deep love for your children that overrides the love you feel for the man you are with or married to and love unconditionally.

This was one of the hardest choices I ever had to make, but when it came down to the well-being of my children versus staying with a man who was abusive toward me and them … my children, without hesitation, came first … as they should.

I know firsthand what happens to children that experience trauma and abuse while growing up. It robs them of their childhood and strips them of any self -confidence or self -worth. It sets them up for a life of pain and hurt, from which they will have to either recover — if they are able to — or they may possibly pass along to their own children when they become parents.

More and more, we are seeing children living in homes were physical, emotional/mental and/or sexual abuse is occurring. They are living in anxiety and fear every single day concerning the next time they will be hurt or see someone in their family hurt. 

I am talking about domestic violence.

Our country is riddled with it, and it seems it’s being passed down generation to generation … a sick cycle that continues until someone stops or breaks it. Unfortunately, breaking the cycle of abuse takes a lot of hard work that proves to be harder for some than for others.

A man who grew up in a home where he was abused or witnessed abuse is four times more likely to become abusive himself.  Divorce is up because of abuse in the home. Yet when a woman tries to leave her abuser, things seem to get even worse for her. Seventy-five percent of domestic violence victims are murdered within two weeks of leaving their abuser. 

In so many cases of domestic violence, women are afraid to leave their abusers, as they fear they will lose everything, including their children. This is often a tactic abusers use to keep their partners to stay with them. These women also know that, at best, they will have to share custody of their children with their abuser and co-parent with them the rest of the child’s years in the home. Some of these women have no access to any of the household money and no means to leave — they feel trapped! After all, the abuser is in control of everything, including the transportation, home, money and children. She ends up asking herself … how do I leave?

She may feel if she stays, she can at least protect her children by being there to intervene if the abuser gets angry with them. She may try to make it work thinking the children are better off having both of their parents in the home. She may not be able to see that she is being abused, or she may even believe she deserves the abuse, and it’s her fault he gets so mad. So she tries very hard not to mess up or do anything to set him off. She tries hard to be “enough” to make him happy. The abuser may express remorse and tell her he’s sorry and will change. This causes her to hang on to the hope that he will change as he has promised so many times before. However, that change doesn’t seem to ever come; there is only more anger, rage and abuse.

Victims of domestic violence are advised to get a PFA (protection from abuse order). This is a piece of paper that is supposed to keep the abuser from abusing you and/or your children any further. The problem is that to abusers, this piece of paper is worthless, it’s not going to keep them from controlling their partner or the situation. 

Over 50 percent of the homicides here in my state are domestic violence-related … some of those deaths are children. Out of 20 homicides last year, 13 were domestic violence-related. Those numbers send a message loud and clear. Why isn’t anyone listening?

We need change and a different approach to stop this; we need to fight back against domestic violence and child abuse starting at the roots. Our system is supposed to be set up to protect the victim, but the whole family court process, including co-parenting with the abuser, feels more like we’re punishing the victim and rewarding the abuser /offender. Co-parenting gives the abuser a perfect way to continue the control and abuse by using the children, and this can hurt them as much as living in the domestic violence did. Abusers usually can’t see past their own anger and control to choose what’s in the best interest of the child. They speak disparagingly about the other parent, fault the other parent. They question the child about the other parent constantly on every visit to the point that the child says something about it: “I don’t like that daddy always asks me so many questions about you and the house.” Abusers use the children as if they were mere pawns in a chess game. They don’t have the capability to see what they do hurts the child much more than the other parent. 

Yet co-parenting and shared parental rights are forced upon the victim and can make one feel like they are being punished for leaving their abuser. This brings them full circle back to where they tell themselves, “I should not have left him.”

It takes a great deal of strength and courage to leave someone that has been abusing you. The physiological ties that bind victims to their abusers are incredibly strong, yet, when the victim finally musters up enough courage to leave, she has to go through more abuse just to be free from the relationship or get divorced. How can someone assault someone, be arrested for it, yet get shared parental rights and responsibilities and overnight unsupervised visits … especially if guns are involved and threats of being shot?

Shouldn’t the credibility of the abuser be somewhat tainted, since he is facing criminal charges … especially if there is a history of rage abuse and violence towards others?

Yet time and time again the victim has to prove herself as the credible one.

How many times have we seen the abuser make false claims about the victim, including their parenting, as a way to exercise further control? Funny how before the abuser was arrested, the victim was a perfect mother. Yet once he is charged with domestic violence, the victim has now become a bad parent and whatever else the abuser sees fit to add in there.

I’ve learned a lot about domestic violence/ abuse and about our justice /court system. I’ve learned that our children do not come first and that the very system that has been set up to protect them is failing them terribly. I’ve learned that the victim’s voice is ignored while the abuser is heard. I have learned that despite the efforts of so many different organizations, experts, advocates to raise awareness and make changes in domestic violence, we still have so far to go in understanding the dynamics of domestic violence and getting others to understand it. In the meantime, who is protecting our children from this flawed system?

Co-parenting gives an abusive or narcissist parent a clear path of unintended court-sanctioned abuse and power and control of the ex-partner and the children, instead of protecting the well-being of the child. Co-parenting can give rise to all sorts of emotional terrorism when involving an abuser. The happiness you first felt about “getting” free of an abusive partner evaporates quickly as you now realize you have to contend with an abusive co-parent. There is no divorce from that.

You cannot fix your ex or even stop his or her abuse. The law right now won’t let you, but you can heal from the emotional wounds of abuse and that will help you and your children in many direct and indirect ways.

Studies are beginning to show that co-parenting in divorce caused by domestic violence doesn’t work and can cause further abuse to both the victim and the children. However, until the lawmakers and the judges in the family court system begin to see that the pendulum might have swung too far in the wrong direction, we all have to make the best of our situations for ourselves and our children.

When co-parenting or shared parental rights were first introduced in the late 80s, it was to help stop parents from bickering and using the children in the divorce and to keep one parent from alienating the other parent from the child’s life.  

However, just like everything else in life, it is not all black and white, and each case is different. These methods may work for a “normal” divorce but for a divorce with complications like domestic violence, somehow, depending on the severity, I believe the co-parenting and/or shared parental rights need to go right out the window — at least for a certain amount of time, like a cooling-off period, so to speak.

That doesn’t mean the other parent doesn’t get to see or be in the child’s life, it simply means, for example: the first year, the victim would have sole custody, with provisions put it place for the abuser/offender to see the child after completing “the program” and only when deemed safe by a professional counselor trained in domestic violence has clears the person.

I also feel we need some changes in the PFA area, especially when involving guns. For example, I believe no search warrant should be needed to search the abuser’s home or living space when that space is searched within 24 hours of arrest and then again within a certain time frame. If there are threats involving guns or weapons, additional searches may be required.

Also, in domestic violence cases, police are mandated to report the domestic violence to Child Protective Services (CPS) if there are children living in the home. However, if the children are not present at the time the domestic abuse/ assault occurred, CPS can’t step in. I feel this process needs to change and could help ensure the safety of the children and the victim of the domestic violence in the future. Just because the children were not there for that specific incident doesn’t mean they weren’t present for others or haven’t been abused themselves. Any form of abuse in front of or toward the children will have lasting effects on them all the way into adulthood … hence the cycle.

Something I keep in the forefront of my mind is that whatever pain, confusion and hurt I feel as I go through all of this “craziness” of a divorce from an abusive and controlling partner, my children’s hurt and pain runs much deeper. Knowing that means I will never stop trying to figure out how to best be there for them. It’s in their best interest that I be as whole and as healthy as I can be to sustain the loving environment I have created for them. I also have to accept the things I cannot change in this system and process.  

Until these laws are changed, we need to speak out about them needing to be changed! We can also work together to ensure that these laws are changed that let this abuse continue in hopes to ensure that someday, the things that are wrong in this process will be made right for victims of domestic violence! 

Our communities need to step up and get involved when a victim reaches out, instead of shaming them further. This happens more than we think. If our communities don’t start to understand the dynamics surrounding domestic violence, we will never be free of it! Domestic violence — physically, psychologically and socially — affects women, men and their families. Domestic violence happens to everyone, all races, religions, income and educational levels. It’s everywhere. Yet we live in a society that still views domestic violence as only a “woman’s issue,” when, in reality, domestic violence is a family and community issue. Each year 500 women and girls in the United States are killed by their partners. Domestic violence is all about power, control and ownership of someone else. There is a stigma attached to this kind of abuse that leaves victims feeling ashamed, guilty and alone. This stigma needs to be brushed away, so victims can achieve freedom from their abusers and from being oppressed! They need us to light their way out of the darkness they have been hiding in.

There is no shame in being abused! The shame belongs to the abuser! It takes amazing strength, bravery and courage to leave someone who has been abusing you and to speak the truth of being abused at the hands of someone you loved! It is the hardest step, and it is the first step to becoming free.

Selina Deveau is an anti-human trafficking and anti-child abuse activist as well as a speaker, advocate, artist, musician and writer. She is also a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in the U.S as well as a survivor of severe child abuse, homelessnessand domestic violence.

She founded Musicians against Trafficking (MAT), a grassroots organization  devoted to preventing human trafficking and connecting survivors of trafficking to
the services they need. As an advocate, she supports survivors through their recovery process with the
focus of using their own artistic and creative expression to heal. She has a vison of hope and healing for them and encourages and empowers them to know their
worth and believe in themselves!

Her story was featured “In Plain Sight” by Stacia Freeman (founder of Hope for Justice) and David Trotter and in Slaves of a Different Kind by Yvonne Williams. She is publishing her first book Sold at Six and is working on her second Made in the U.S.A.

Selina has developed sustainable treatment options for survivors of human trafficking, along with age-appropriate curriculum on trafficking for our schools. She is a member of the National Survivor Network and the New England Survivor Leadership Collaborative. As a former teacher, she is trained and certified by N.E.S.T (National Educators to Stop Trafficking) to educate and train law
enforcement ,the school system, the medical community, emergency response workers and social services on prevention of sex trafficking and exploitation

As a speaker for keeping kids safe, Selina gives inspirational and knowledgeable presentations and lectures addressing human trafficking, child abuse, online and offline predators, sexual assault/ rape and domestic violence in her local schools from sixth grade through high school.

No human being has the right to own buy sell or trade another human being; it is
inhumane. — Selina Deveau

Breaking Free
A spoken word about Domestic Violence

You can call me crazy go ahead spread your lies
Each step I take further away from you is a step closer I get to the truth
I forgive you for you know not what you do or do you?
I still remember everything can’t seem to erase it from my mind,
I can still hear the anger in your voice
I have no choice but to run and hide
You yell and scream in my face until I can’t take any more
I’m curled up on the floor, your crashing through locked doors.
Look where I’ve been can’t go back there again
Your fight against me makes me so tired so weak
I feel the defeat that comes from your deceit I try to retreat,
Trapped! My future bleak.
How do I leave? How? How do I leave?
Why this war? How did I become your enemy?
Felt like I was living in captivity, felt like you owned me,
Told me who to be, I need to be free
Simply free …to be me.
you broke me broke my heart
Now all I want is to make a new start.
Yet you hold me down, everything I was dreaming of, everything we were building on…gone.
Unworthy, no good your cruel words make me feel so small
Like I never mattered to you at all.
I no longer recognize the man you have become
I no longer believe your promises and lies.
I won’t be compromised I won’t be victimized. No more! No more!
I won’t be locked in a box by your psychosocial locks keeping me enslaved
Loving you made me stay,
Today…is a brand new day and I’m awake
Love should never hurt
Love should not cause you to feel less than
Love does not tear you down
Love is not mean or cruel.
I am no longer your fool blinded by the unconditional love I had for you,
I now know this is what I must do, I say goodbye to you,
And that life that wasn’t living,
I say goodbye to all those years of only me giving everything I had to you,
For whatever was broken I’d find the glue and fix it,
I can’t fix this.
Your stress your frustration your anger
Is no excuse for this abuse.
Today I stand strong on solid ground, no longer still or silent.
No longer accepting this violence as a solution,
There is no resolution. You add only more confusion
You manipulate a system meant to protect the victim.
The truth has set me free, simply to be me.
I will make it on my own and I will make it my own way.
I take back …my life today.

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