In light of recent political protests, I feel it is urgent to also address the issue of domestic violence in our community. I am the victim of repeated, severe domestic abuse which occurred right here in Champaign County at the hands of my ex-husband. Domestic violence is a huge problem in our country, and Champaign is no exception. However, the problem is a silent one. Women are afraid to speak. Their friends and family are afraid to speak up for them out of fear of retaliation from the abuser. The community doesn’t understand: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The judicial system turns a deaf ear to the few women that find the strength to leave and stand up for themselves and their children.
Why don’t we leave? There are a million reasons why a woman stays: financial dependence on her abuser, lack of education or work experience, brain washing, trying to keep the “family” together, but I would argue that the biggest reason we stay is fear. These men systematically bring us down, and they do it so slowly that we don’t even recognize it. When we finally realize that we are being abused, it’s late in the game. They are controlling our minds, our bodies, our children, our money, everything about us, all the while telling us that we are not good enough, and no one else will ever want us. We are scared to get divorced, scared to separate our children from their fathers, scared that they will kill us. My ex threatened me literally thousands of times – that he would kill me, kidnap my daughter, torture me, cut off my genitalia. If you saw someone with a gun pointed at their head, fully loaded, safety off, would you tell them “why don’t you just walk away?” What happens when they walk away? More likely than not, they will be killed or injured. It is the same with victims of domestic violence: four out of five women that die due to domestic violence die while leaving their abuser. Not only does taking control and standing up for ourselves make our abusers angry, there is little to shelter us on the other side once we have made it out alive. We have a wonderful women’s shelter in our community, but they simply do not have the resources needed to do as much as they need to do. The police are there to help us, and do what they can, but ultimately decisions are left to the state’s attorney’s office.
Very recently the city government of Topeka, Kansas ALMOST decided to stop charging abusers with domestic battery because of MONEY. I want to shed light on the fact that that is happening right here in our very own county. Public, national outrage stopped Topeka from following through, but when it is hidden, covered up, like it is in Champaign, who is there to stand up for women and children and make sure that the justice system is not sending the wrong message to both men and women? Men: “It is ok to beat your wife. It is just a misdemeanor. For a first time offense, you will most likely get nothing more than court supervision, if we even charge you for it.” Women: “If you leave your abuser, the justice system will not be there to back you up, so not only are you making your abuser angry, we will not protect you from him.” So women stay. And men keep abusing women.
I want to open up everyone’s eyes to the reality happening right here at home. Women and children are being abused daily, and the men that abuse them are rarely charged for their crimes. If they are charged, it is a misdemeanor offense. To put that into perspective, both reckless driving and domestic battery are considered class A misdemeanors. You can beat your wife for years on end, or you can drive a little recklessly, and wind up with the same exact sentence. Where is the sense in that? Stealing something is a felony offense, but beating your wife is OK.
Doctors, lawyers, judges sometimes are not familiar with the cycle of violence, the effects of abuse on a battered woman and her family, or just how much of a threat it is to leave an abuser. We are blamed, we are beaten down not only by our abusers, but by those around us. We are told that we are lying, exaggerating, that we liked it, that it is our fault.
I wish to challenge our community to come together, particularly for the candlelight vigil that will be held on October 27, and take a stand against domestic violence. Let’s find a way to bring domestic violence education to our schools so our daughters will not fall victims as many of us have. Let’s send the state’s attorney a clear message: we do not tolerate violence against our women and children! Donate to the local women’s shelter so that they can provide much needed services to all of their clients. Speak out when you witness domestic violence. Be there to help when someone tells you that they are a victim. Do not let them suffer in silence, but give them the strength to speak out, and to find the resources they need to save their own life and their children’s lives.
Open your minds, your hearts, and just listen. All we survivors ask is that people listen, and that they do not allow this to go on any longer. Demand justice!