Florida law students pledge against domestic violence

Published: April 13th, 2009

Category: News

What began as Aaron Kelley’s and Kara Wick’s “Men v. Violence” project for Professor Nancy Dowd’s “Gender and the Law” course became a week-long campaign at the Levin College of Law to promote awareness of domestic violence and to encourage men to pledge never to become an abuser.

Their project had two major components. The first was a table set up in the courtyard where men could make their pledges and all students were invited to hand-paint t-shirts representing victims of domestic violence. The second was an April 9 presentation by Teresa Drake, assistant state attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit, and Lynn Cooke, an attorney for Three Rivers Legal Services and president of Alachua County’s task force against domestic violence.

“There’s only one cause of domestic violence, and that’s the batterer,” Drake stated, lamenting the way in which victims are often blamed not only by their batterers but also by society for their abuse. She explained that often during a trial for domestic abuse, jurors will think, ‘well, if it’s so bad, then why didn’t she just leave?’

When she subpoenas a victim of domestic violence, Drake said that she is certain to tell her, “I am so sorry that this happened to you. You don’t deserve it.”

“I can tell that it’s often the first time that she’s heard that,” Drake said, adding that a victim’s reasons for staying are highly complex, both psychologically and logistically.

For many women, their batterers are their only sources of financial support and they fear leaving the home that they have known behind, taking only their children and whichever belongings they are able to hastily pack into an overnight bag. For these women, they know that “the batterer may destroy everything they left behind – their pets, their personal belongings, everything,” Drake said.

Teresa Drake, assistant state attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit. (UF Law/ Charles Roop)

According to Drake, 70 percent of women who are killed by their batterers are killed while trying to leave. She also described an ongoing tension with the Department of Children and Families who sometimes accuse a woman in an abusive relationship of failing to protect her children, countering that perhaps, “in staying in that relationship, is she keeping them alive?”

Cooke discussed how civil remedies such as injunctions against an abuser may also help keep a victim safe. The benefit of having an injunction is what Cooke referred to as a “collateral benefit” that is not dependent on the outcome of a criminal case. If an abuser violates an injunction, the victim may seek relief within the criminal or civil system, depending on the circumstances, Cooke said.

Another primary reason for women staying in abusive relationships, Drake explained, is the cycle of violence. Drake described women in abusive relationships as having fallen in love with their abusers before the abuse began.

“When you fall in love, the person has no flaws. They’re perfect. And you’re trying your best to be perfect.”

Then, there’s an act of violence followed by extreme remorse on the part of the abuser along with shifting blame from himself onto perhaps drugs or alcohol or, in some cases, onto the victim. Drake notes, however, that domestic violence is never caused by drugs or alcohol, but always by “power and control.”

While her abuser is in the remorse period, the victim again sees the man she fell in love with, what Drake calls “the flowers and hearts guy,” and says that it is not until the victim recognizes that the “flowers and hearts” guy is not the real person, but rather that the batterer is, that the cycle stops.

The inspiration for the project, Kelley and Wick said, was the recognition of a “need for men to take a stand and realize that [domestic violence] is a male issue as well.” Both students agreed that from this project, they have been impressed with the response from men who stopped at the table to learn more about domestic violence and to pledge to never become an abuser.