It happened all the time. The woman came to court because a piece of paper said she had to, but it was the last place she wanted to be. He had threatened her, or took the phone when she tried to call 911, or trapped her in a room, or hit her. She did not want to recount one of the worst nights of her life to a room full of strangers, and told the Assistant District Attorney as much. She didn’t say those exact words, but simply stated, “I don’t want to testify.”
As a Court Advocate, convincing her to testify was not part of my job. Offering information, however, was. In the courtroom setting, this was the best information I could offer:
It is called the Power and Control Wheel. It is so named to immediately press the point that partner abuse is about just that, attempting to maintain power and control.
Here’s the second part to that line, “It happened all the time:” The woman would take a moment to study the Power and Control Wheel I handed to her, printed on a piece of paper. Then, there would be some slight variation of the reaction, “This is my relationship, printed on paper in black and white. This is my life.”
So many women were amazed to discover that the very set of behaviors they thought no one would believe if they described were all layed out on one piece of paper written by someone they did not know.
That type of discovery is powerful. It whispers to the woman that she is not the only one who has faced this. It offers hope that someone will believe her. It initiates a consideration that maybe it’s not all her fault, as her partner insists. It puts into words her hurt since she has become too tired to try to find those words. It warns of escalation.
And so it is with education: I was able to offer a tool that allowed women to make their own discovery. “Someone wrote my story,” they would say. And often, the next spoken thought would be, “But I don’t want it to be my story any longer.”
I don’t know if courage is found or if courage is born, but whichever way that goes, I am quite sure I saw it happen many times. Maybe not in the courtroom on that particular day, but I witnessed the courage of many women who decided to start writing their own stories again.
Maybe you know someone who is living this strange story where the person who is supposed to love her the most hurts her the most. Maybe your words to her have not seemed to be effective. Only when it is safe to do so, share the Power and Control Wheel with her. It may facilitate a discovery that your words could not prompt.
Maybe you see your story written in black and white in that Power and Control Wheel. Let it whisper what so many women who have been through this would shout: “Someone will believe you. This is not healthy. This is dangerous.”
Maybe it’s time to start writing your own story again.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.