Sometime in the middle of last year, I happened across a book offered in one of my review groups, and ended up requesting a copy of Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me To Let Go and Live Again (2014) by Megan Cyrulewski. In it, Megan tells the story of her long, drawn-out legal battle to save herself from her spousal abuser, and his friends, and gain custody of her daughter. I ended up reading the whole thing at once, then posting my review.
At the time I had some familiarity with the phenomenon of domestic violence and abuse, and even had a bit of naïve pride in understanding some of the dynamics of what abuse victims face in the criminal justice system. After all, I had a Masters of Criminal Justice and had worked the road as a military police officer at Fort Hood. After reading the book, I realized that what I knew barely scratched the surface of this topic. I also felt a burning desire – almost a calling – to read, research, and write further on this topic. I just didn’t know from which angle.
Fast forward eight months, and my heart breaks thinking of what I’ve learned so far. My research, as research often does, has drifted and grown and morphed with every person I talk to, every news story that arises, every book I dive into to support my findings. My focus on the challenges for domestic violence victims has both narrowed and deepened to concentrate on what happens, legally, when victims leave their abusive partners. This is a big question, and one that has been addressed on a micro level, but one that doesn’t seem to have permeated the consciousness of the larger social order. My goal for this book is to answer the first question anyone asks when these stories hit the airwaves (and cyberwaves these days): Well, why doesn’t she just leave?
At the moment, I am still only at the beginning of my research, with the goal of finishing a proposal and pitching it to various publishers. But at the same time, I feel the need to begin chronicling the journey, documenting some of that research, and hopefully raising interest in the project that I can use in the proposal to get hired to write the book. In that vein, I wanted to share some of the general themes I’ve encountered.
- Abusers are sneaky. Emotional abusers are the worst. When focusing their charms, they can literally make people forget what they saw, and worse, misremember what they saw, corrupting eyewitnesses to the abuse at the least, and ruining lifelong friendships at the worst. In EVERY SINGLE CASE I’ve researched so far (and there have been quite a few), isolating the victim from her support network is the first step in the abuser’s plan.
- Those in the system know what’s wrong with it. A common refrain I’ve heard is: “That’s the way it is.” I myself have been told multiple times from multiple people: Don’t be a lawyer, you can’t fix the system from within. (Which is why I’m writing a book and not studying for the LSATs…) What was the saddest thing I’ve heard? “Some clients still think they’re going to get justice.” What I’ve learned is that you can always spot someone who has been through the aftermath of leaving a domestic violence abuser. They’re the ones who, when I relate a bit of my research, get a distant look in their eyes (the PTSD thousand-yard-stare) and say: “Oh yes, I know.” Everyone else tries to give me legal advice based on their marathon binge-watching of Law and Order, or other police procedural television shows that have somehow convinced the masses that the justice system still contains inherent fairness.
- Plea bargaining. As a student in my Masters of Criminal Justice class, I learned that 90 percent of cases were plea bargained to prevent a drain on the court system, which is already stacked high with caseload. What I learned from my own research is that someone facing criminal charges because of an abusive spouse – especially since gaming the system against the victim is apparently an ubiquitous tactic – has likely spent all their own money and a large amount of their friends’ and families’ just to stay even with all the litigation thrown their way. By the time they make a mistake that lands them under criminal charges, they have no more money. I call this “The $75K-Dollar Decision.” Do they borrow more money to pay $75,000 for a lengthy trial process, see their abuser every time they go to court, and possibly face a guilty verdict at the end? Or do they plead guilty for a fine of a couple thousand bucks or some sort of probation program?
- Tenure of judges precludes fairness. Time after time, victims have related tales, or I’ve read transcripts where evidence in black-and-white is ignored routinely, even when, to a layperson, it should have impacted the court proceedings. While perusing the Web for research about the role of judges, I have found sites that “rate” judges, depending on their fairness or willingness to take into account evidence submitted to a court of law. Frankly, if some of these judges were restaurants, I wouldn’t step foot in one of their rat- and cockroach-infested kitchens, and the health department would be on their way to close them down. But there doesn’t seem to be a judicial oversight process for tenured judges, or other people working in the system, to provide families, victims, or other unfortunates the same protection. And when they complain, they’re told: “That’s the way it is.”
But don’t take my word for it. I realize that this blog is necessarily short and speaks in generalities. This is because it is simply sketching out some of the rough outlines of information that I have come across in my research, which at this point is based on a lot of Internet searches, previously existing documents, and people who have been brave enough to let me into their worlds for a short time.
I do intend to continue posting updates of my research, including snippets from interviews of people who are willing to speak to me on the topic of helping victims of domestic violence. In the meantime, here is a reading list that can help buttress some of the points stated above:
An excellent examination and helpful advice written for victims who find themselves in the same situation of attempting to leave someone with this personality. The common refrain from those who recommended or read the book: I wish I had read this BEFORE going through this, which is one of the reasons why I want to examine the issues that happen after leaving an abuser, and prompt people to understand why it is both dangerous and life-sucking.
A friend of mine recommended this book upon hearing the research I was conducting. Not only is the book filled with information necessary for people who think that this is no big deal, but the Amazon review comments are an education in and of themselves. If you have several hours and a large supply of alcohol to numb the pain, go ahead and take a look.