After 14 years in my position as a domestic violence investigator and handling more than a thousand cases of domestic violence in Sagadahoc County, I often am asked what drives me given, the unpleasant nature of my job. My reply is simple: It is the small victories that make this job worth it.
I admittedly came into this position without the unrealistic idealism that I would solve the relentless societal scourge of domestic violence. Before taking this position, I served with the Topsham Police Department for 26 years. During that time, I came to learn of the dynamics of domestic violence and the complexities that prevent resolutions that most would find acceptable.
In follow-up interviews with victims, I routinely learned that many of those cases weren’t the first incidence of abuse in a relationship. Many of the cases that cross my desk are not reported by the victim but by neighbors, family or co-workers. This, plus the fact that nearly half of all homicides in Maine stem from domestic violence, makes these revelations all that more critical. I cannot recall the number of philosophical discussions I have had with victims of domestic abuse, attempting to have them visualize the bigger picture. I never directly try to persuade them to leave the abuser but simply look at current and past events with the hope that they continue with their eyes open and objectivity in their hearts.
Yes, I take some satisfaction when an abuser is found guilty and receives an appropriate sentence, but that feeling does not last long when I learn the victim wishes to continue the relationship despite the abuse. My best days are when victims reach their “aha moments,” when victims of abuse finally recognize the situations in which they found themselves are not likely to get better. In those moments, they recognize they and their children face risk of harm, and it is no longer reasonable to stay with this person.
I have three examples of women who have articulated their discoveries and awareness in writing of what I feel are their aha moments. The following are excerpts of their feelings about their situations. The first is from the narrative of a protection from abuse order:
“We have been together for four years, and it has been clear to me that it is an unhealthy pattern. He controlled where I went, he said terrible things to me, I felt I was overpowered, I felt like he made all the decisions in the relationship and always knew exactly how to make me feel the way he wanted me to feel. I attempted to end the relationship seven or eight times, but he persuaded me [to stay]. I am afraid that he is going to continue to want to be with me and that is something that I could never want because he physically hurt me.”
Next is from an email sent to me from a past victim: “I have learned I am not the only one, and he has a way of manipulating us females into believing these actions are completely our fault. It hurts to know I am the one who has to be the one to do this because he convinced me as others that we are the one and only love of his life. Yes, I am an abused woman and have been easily scared into covering up for someone I once believed was true and would never intentionally hurt me. I since learned many things about him and myself. I will not take the full blame for his actions. I will accept responsibility for my own actions as he should do.”
This piece came from a victim impact statement read in court during the sentencing for a domestic violence case: “Any mother could tell you that she always wants what’s right for their children. Their safety and wellbeing is absolutely of utmost importance, even before her own. But a mother is only as good for her kids as she is to herself. A broken mother can’t be the strength her children need when they’re looking for strength to draw upon. No man has the right to make a woman feel that she deserves pain and sadness because she’ll never be good enough for someone else. Fearing for myself and my children is not a place any mother should be brought to and I pray all women will find strength to get the help and get away from such damage.”
These are the small victories that keep me going.
Steven Edmondson is a domestic violence investigator for the Sagadahoc County district attorney’s office.