dara_carlin_survive_thriveThe first time I ever heard that a Domestic Violence VICTIM is supposed to turn into a SURVIVOR and from there morph into a THRIVER, I thought someone was tossing around semantics to complicate something relatively simple.  What's the difference and does it really matter?  Yes, BIG differences and if you're not trying to hurt anyone's feelings, yes, it really does matter.

A domestic violence victim needs no introduction; immediately we envision a woman battered black-and-blue by her husband, most likely a hulking brut of a man with a really bad temper.  She, on the other hand, is timid and "stupid": stupid for marrying him in the first place, stupid for having kids with him, stupid for staying and stupid for going back to him once she "has the sense" to leave.  (So essentially stupid for buying into the goals most of us pursue in our lives: marriage, children, a home, a family, trying to keep the family together, working through the bad times to get back to the good.)

Leaving is the first of many Catch 22s the victim will face on the "road to success" because when we say "leave" we're actually saying and expecting TWO things from the victim:


  1. Leave, as in get away from the abuser's physical location
  2. Leave, as in terminate the relationship with the abuser

Successfully leaving is the defining line between a domestic violence victim and a domestic violence survivor, and earning the title of "survivor" is no easy feat.  If the victim has applied for a Temporary Restraining (TRO) or Protective Order (PO) - a formal court order barring the abuser from contact with the victim - or turns to a domestic violence program for assistance, the victim will be educated about the dynamics of domestic violence so she doesn't get killed in the process of leaving.

Wait a minute - did you say killed in the process?  Figuratively speaking, right?  Nope, LITERALLY.  As a matter of fact, the most dangerous time for a woman who is being abused is when she tries to leave.  (United States Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey, 1995)  (And please note it says "tries to leave" not "when she leaves".)

"I'm sorry, when I said '...till death do us part', I didn't mean by his hands...  You said TEMPORARY Restraining Order, right?  If I stay at your shelter, it doesn't mean I HAVE to leave, right?  I don't have to make a permanent decision RIGHT NOW, do I?  Can I have a day or two to think this over?  Oh, and, just out of curiosity, what are the chances that he'd really, seriously kill me?"

According to the US Department of Justice (2004) about 1/3 of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. Similarly, the National Women Abuse Prevention Project reported that 34% of female homicide victims over the age of 15 are killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends.  (By way of comparison, the 2004 DOJ report cited about 3% of male murder victims were killed by an intimate.)  http://www.slientwitness.net/sub/violences.htm

For a DV victim, a 2/3 chance at life by staying sounds better then a 1/3 chance at death by leaving.  Then there are other victims who won't believe the statistics apply to them because "C'mon, he's not capable of doing something like that!" and then there are those who'll return thinking a 1/3 chance at death is looking better now then a 2/3 existence.

Domestic violence victims are typically excellent rule followers so if someone in authority is telling them that they're in danger and advises them to "do the following to be safe" at the point where they're firmly committed to leaving, they'll either do as they're told or will have seen for themselves that they very well could end up being a statistic if they don't do something NOW.

Unfortunately, some domestic violence survivors are memorialized as victims when their best efforts to survive are outmatched by their abuser's rage over their leaving, such as Janel Tupuola, Maria Schutte, Daysha Aiona Aka, Yolanda Crawford, Royal Kaukani, Cherry Ann Domingo, Sarah Marie Fay http://www.sarahmariefay.com/about.aspx and so many others who found out that "If I can't have you, no one else can" was indeed a promise, NOT an empty threat.

Not every DV case ends up as a homicide so where are all the survivors?  Well, if they have children in-common with their abusers, you can find them in family courts around the country in contested child custody and visitation cases that go on for years and years.  Otherwise, the survivors go back into hiding - not because they're trying to conceal themselves from their abusers - but to conceal themselves from the rest of us.

When DV victims are congratulated for their strength, courage and resourcefulness in leaving and are told they have nothing to be ashamed about by being a survivor, the message they get when facing the rest of us tells them they've been lied to.  Rather then the support, understanding and encouragement they're so thirsty for, too many survivors are met with awkward silences, stunned expressions and uncomfortable glances that send them the message "I wouldn't say that out loud if I were you".

We look up to and revere survivors of all types - from illnesses, war, natural disasters - but not domestic violence or abuse.  We would never question or doubt the credibility of a survivor of the Holocaust, the Japan tsunami or breast/prostate cancer, yet survivors of domestic violence are stripped of their validation, healing and personal triumph every time they get a "not ok" reaction from someone whose learned they're a DV survivor.  If you've inadvertently done this yourself, you may not even be conscious of it but because they're NOT stupid, both survivors and victims have registered your reaction and will adjust their behavior to suit your comfort level the next time around.

What does a Thriver look like?  You know who Tina Turner is, right?  How about actress Halle Berry; criminal psychologist, Dr. Michelle Ward; corporate executive writer, L.Y. Marlow or (more local) bail bondsman, Beth Chapman?  Once upon a time all domestic violence victims, who fled, survived and went on to thrive!

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