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Domestic violence: It’s never simple | Guest Column

by Dave Dunaway

Director, Safe San Juans

Interpersonal violence is never simple, especially when you are on the receiving end. A comment like “you will leave/run/speak out if you are truly worried about your safety” appears reasonable to the one saying it, but it does little for the person suffering abuse. It’s usually way more complicated, especially when violence and abuse (including sexual abuse) come from an intimate partner or family member.

The risks of speaking up or leaving seem high when you are being abused … sometimes too high. Shame, blame, loss, and fear are the most common feelings. Pressing questions in the mind of someone thinking of running or speaking up are: “What about my children – will we be separated, and will they suffer more because I spoke up?” “Will I (we) be homeless?” “How will I afford food?” “Will people believe me?” “Will people think I’m tearing up the family?” “I still care about the person abusing me – what will happen to them?” “Will people think I destroyed my abuser’s life, career, and reputation?” “People like my abuser – will they side with them?” “They have so many good qualities – will they be nicer if I just hang in there a little longer?” “Will my suffering always be my fault?” “I feel like I’m going crazy – am I just making this up?” “Will I be found and punished?” The questions seem endless.

It would be easier if the abused person believed they could come up with a good plan and know where to get support. But, it’s hard to trust others when someone so close has been so untrustworthy. It’s even harder to trust your own judgment when you didn’t see or pay attention to the signs. You need a safe place to turn.

SAFE San Juans (SAFE) is a non-profit agency serving victims of violence and abuse in San Juan County. SAFE has a 24/7 crisis line: If you are in a violent relationship and need help immediately, call 360-378-2345, and one of SAFE’s staff members will assist you. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger or someone is actively trying to hurt you. Once you feel like the danger has lessened, ask the Sheriff’s deputy to connect you to SAFE San Juans for help figuring out what to do next.

When you call or visit SAFE San Juans, our staff will help you discover and think about options. We are not here to find fault or choose sides. We are here to listen to you as you process what is happening in your life, and we will keep the conversation private. We will believe you and not blame you. We will assist you in creating a personalized safety plan for yourself and your loved ones. We will help you figure out and find the resources you need to live a life without abuse. These resources may include emergency shelter, food, clothing, housing, work, and other necessities that you fear losing when you speak up or flee. We can either provide them or connect you to other agencies who can provide them. We are good at financial planning and helping people figure out how to move forward.

Sometimes help from the legal or medical community is needed when dealing with abusive relationships. We can assist you with filing for a legal protection order, preparing for court appearances, connecting with an attorney, and we can offer support while in court. Tending to wounds and documenting injuries can be emotionally and physically difficult – we will support you at the hospital or at medical appointments if you ask us to. Because sexual abuse is such a common form of violence, SAFE offers free protective measures including condoms, pregnancy tests and emergency Plan B.

For those trying to navigate the reality of ongoing abuse, or for those dealing with the longer-term effects of past violence, SAFE offers support groups as well individual counseling/therapy. Our state-licensed Master’s level professional mental health clinicians provide mental health therapy on a case by case basis for those dealing with the trauma of domestic or sexual violence.

SAFE San Juans has offices in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village. All of SAFE’s services are confidential, free, and available to anyone who needs them. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at www.safesj.org.