Domestic Violence: Should Victims Pay For Being Abused?


Domestic Violence: Should Victims Pay for Being Abused?

According to Mark Wynn, Domestic Violence Prevention Trainer and Consultant, physical abuse of a spouse is a criminal offense. Why, then, are divorce court judges still treating it casually, or worse, not bothering to consider its existence at all? This attitude brings about the routine splitting of assets, no questions asked, and often gives batterers handsome cash rewards.

Three weeks ago in New Haven, Connecticut, in a speech presented to a conference on domestic violence, Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the best-selling memoir Crazy Love, told her audience that paying off her abusive husband in a divorce settlement was ?the best thing? that had happened to her in the course of her nightmarish marriage. When questioned later on this statement, she qualified it in saying that it was the best for her, in that it gave the man who had beaten her repeatedly ?what he wanted,? so that he would no longer have reason to bother her. What does this sort of reasoning say to the rest of us? Is this the ?best? we can do?

National statistics show that upwards of 20% of all divorces are filed because of domestic abuse. Thousands of women (and a few men,) are in danger of losing their life?s savings when they ask the courts of the land to relieve them of a dangerous partnership. Most of these plaintiffs ask for nothing more than to be free of living under the strain of violence. Unfortunately, many judges have tunnel vision when presented with such cases; they ignore behaviors and zero in on assets alone. Woe to the victim who possesses anything of her own! More woe to that same person, if she has managed to accumulate more than her spouse! It is also not uncommon for an abuser to indulge in vices other than cruelty; vices that cost money. These may leave him in debt and in need of putting his soon-to-be-ex- partner to further use. What easier way is there to restock his bank account than to demand a ?fair share? from a judge? Every time a person is forced to pay off an abuser, it becomes harder for the rest of us to avoid court-induced poverty.

Spousal abusers are mini-terrorists; they strike those who are unsuspecting and unarmed. They seek power and control, and are unabashed about their methods of gaining them. The day after the Boston Marathon bombing in April of this year, Dr. David Katz presented an interesting question in his column, written from the locked-down city. In referring to terrorists, he called them ?morons,? and wondered what would happen, if instead of cowering, and thus giving them a back-handed type of respect, we were to treat them the way they deserve to be treated: as cowards and pariahs. He was adamant in stating ?we don?t give them what they want!? The same may be said for perpetrators of domestic violence; we must never give them what they want.

The New Haven conference provided all its participants with two meals and a series of sincere speakers with impressive credentials. Presenters and audience vowed to work together to put an end to domestic violence. We were encouraged to stare it in the face without flinching, and to speak of it without shame. What was largely ignored, however, was the need to reform divorce laws. Splitting of assets especially must be looked at carefully. If there is proof that physical violence is involved in the marital breakdown, the perpetrator of the violence should be barred from claiming any of his partner?s assets.

Abusers, like other terrorists, are dangerous, but they are also cowards and bullies, not unlike Mother Goose?s Georgy Porgy of the children?s rhyme. Those of us who have been their victims are glad to have escaped with our lives. This is no excuse, however, to just cut our losses, sit back, lick our wounds, and wish ourselves better luck next time. If we keep giving batterers ?what they want,? they?ll keep coming. If we stand up and oppose existing divorce laws, though, we can cut off their supply of blood money. Maybe then they?ll just dry up and blow away.