A 30-year-old Bloomington woman was stabbed to death with a butcher knife—allegedly by her husband—earlier this month. She was packing to leave what relatives say was an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence experts say choosing when to leave an abusive relationship is a critical time, and that those seeking to escape should form a plan for leaving their abuser safely.
Cheryl Gaines has worked with domestic abuse survivors for 25 years. Her agency, Collaborative Solutions, also counsels those accused of committing domestic abuse.
“When someone is leaving, that can be the most dangerous time,” Gaines said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “You have to have a safety plan. You have to think ahead."
Gaines suggests getting in touch with domestic abuse advisers, like those who work at the Neville House shelter for battered women.
“They are trained in how to set up safety plans,” Gaines said.
Gaines said there are also steps abuse survivors can take on their own. They include hiding important documents such as driver’s licenses, credit cards and Social Security cards from the abuser so they can be taken along when a victim leaves.
Gaines suggests hiding important documents outside of the house, or leaving them with a trusted neighbor or friend.
"It’s important to take a phone with you, if you have one, and make sure it’s easily accessible,” Gaines said.
People who don’t have a support system of family or friends should call the police if they need to get out of a home quickly, Gaines said.
“If you are being threatened, they can help take you and the children to safety, to a shelter such as Neville House,” she added.
The location of Neville House isn’t publicized to prevent abusers from going there. She said the location is surrounded by security cameras, and surveyed periodically by police.
Gaines calls domestic violence one of the most complex behaviors counselors confront.
“Domestic violence often doesn’t make sense to us because we think if someone did something to me, I’d be out of there in a heartbeat,” Gaines said.
“If get we get hit by a stranger on the street, we don’t hesitate to call the police to have that person arrested because we don’t have an emotional tie to them. A domestic violence situation is very different. Women can be beaten down by men so much they believe they are not worthy, and so the abuse continues.”
Restraining orders, which must be signed by a judge, can also be helpful, Gaines said.
“What it comes down to is an order of protect is a piece of paper. It can’t stop a knife or bullet or someone’s hand around your neck," Gaines said. "However, it can help that other person to start thinking, ‘I don’t want to go to the penitentiary so I am going to stay away.’”
She said the police and the courts can only do so much. Often victims won’t press charges.
“They are scared, they are afraid they’ll be hurt worse, or they are worried about how am I going to live now, I don’t have a way to support myself, or it’s not fair to my children.”
Gaines said she counsels a number of accused abusers in Collaborative Solution’s Avert program. Many of the men she sees say they grew up in abusive households.
“They were never given the tools for how to problem-solve or have good communications skills. None of that was modeled for them,” she said.
“We model the kind of behavior we want them to learn,” she added. “We’re not overly confrontational, though we do confront them … We help them take an inward look at themselves and try to find out what are their triggers.”
She said people who are serial abusers or have serious personality disorders usually end up in prison, rather than in counseling.
A national conversation on domestic abuse is taking place in connection with the resignation of Rob Porter, a White House staffer whose two former wives accused him of domestic abuse. A photo was released of one of the wives with a black eye.
President Donald Trump has been criticized for failing to express adequate support for battered women, saying in Porter’s case that he was a good worker who deserves due process..
“Many (abusers) are professional people and good workers,” Gaines said, “but they’re not good in an intimate relationship.”
Gaines said employers should demand people with abuse allegations get help.
“If they have tried to get help and gone through a treatment program, they should be given an opportunity" for employment, Gaines said.
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