Sunday, April 27, 2008


Why doesn’t she just leave? I have been working in the area of domestic violence for so long, I am surprised that people still ask this question. Really – you don’t know? How about this – Why doesn’t he stop hitting her? Surely, by now, EVERONE knows that “the state picks up the charges.” Why does he make the choice to keep hitting her knowing that he’ll be prosecuted? What the heck is wrong with him?

But, back to this question about her just leaving: First I’d say that there is no “just” about this issue. As former police officer Mark Wynn says, “Leaving isn’t an event, it is a process.” It isn’t a matter of walking out the door, especially when kids are involved. Anyone who is divorced with children will tell you that that person is ALWAYS in his or her life. And – read the paper, watch the news – start noticing when women and children die in domestic violence relationships – it most often when they leave. Domestic violence is foremost about control – leaving breaks the control.

Unsupervised visitation is the NORM for divorced men who previously beat their wives. Unbelievable, but true. Ask any family attorney. Ask any battered woman. I’ve seen it up close thousands of times. So – here are a battered woman’s choices:

1) Stay in the relationship. Part of her loves him; maybe he’ll get better. He says he will. He even tries sometimes. At least while she is there, she is safer. She can be around her kids all the time and make sure they are safe. She keeps getting hit. Her kids keep seeing it. Her children are learning that violence is OK, that you don’t have the right or ability to stand up for yourself, or for some that are lucky, maybe they want to be different (see

2) Leave. He told her he’d kill her if she left. She tried leaving before. He didn’t leave her alone. Her kids will be around him alone, without her as a buffer. What if he beats the new woman in his life? Even though she left, her kids would still be exposed to violence. He controls the money, she feels stupid, she has lost contact with her friends and family, what if he gets custody of the kids? Here in Houston, in 2006, Leonard Hausenbauer killed his young children when his wife left him. Some people may wonder how he could hurt his own childen. It wasn’t about his children, it was about her, hurting her. He wanted her to pay for leaving.

3) Do nothing. Make no choices to stay or leave. Pretend. Live day-by-day and just hope it gets better. Maybe drink to do SOMETHING with her pain. Become less than fully human, never being able to think about how she feels – because to do that would be to fall apart. And – she can’t. She’s got to stay alert, like a prisoner of war.

So, when it comes to arresting and prosecuting, it becomes between him and the criminal justice system. What the heck is wrong with you, dude? If you can’t stop hitting her because it is just wrong, maybe you will because you don’t want to be in trouble? Maybe she’ll find a way out if you are held accountable? Chances are slim, but maybe you’ll make the choice to stop using violence?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Half-Naked Lunch

Last week, a couple of us took a good friend to lunch to celebrate a milestone birthday. We ended up at a restaurant called “The Strip House.” “Strip” is a double entendre for “steak” and “sex workers.” I said I’d never go to this place, but I did. Part of me was curious. They don’t actually have live sex workers there, just pictures of them, mostly pictures of topless women in “artistic” photos. To be fair, there were actually some pictures of men – fully dressed, in suits – maybe those are the pictures of the “sex buyers?”

When we arrived, I asked the woman up front if they have pictures of naked men. She laughed - politely - and said they didn’t. When we sat down, I asked my lunch companions if we should take our shirts off. Ok, Ok – I did agree to come here. I’ll stop being a smart alec. The food and the service were very good. I have to say and we had a very nice lunch.

If I ever go back there, I’m sneaking in a picture of a naked man and putting it up on the wall. I figure nothing says first class dining like looking at male genatalia while eating good food.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
- Carl Jung

There is a violence awareness project going on in Houston this weekend. Several funeral homes have volunteered to drive their hearses, festooned with anti-violence signs, through “high crime areas” such as the 3rd Ward.

My initial thought is this: Do people who live in “high crime” areas already know they are at risk of violence? How are they being helped by being reminded?

I say this with respect to the people who are volunteering on this project. I’m glad people are willing to volunteer their time to make life better. I do have a suggestion for the hearse drivers for their next awareness project.

How about driving through the business area of the Galleria, downtown Houston, or maybe River Oaks? Don’t people die because they don’t have access to health insurance, and as a result, proper health care? Aren't people's options limited because of inability to make a living wage? Isn’t this a type of violence? An injustice? Maybe if we raise awareness, people who have access to power and money will be motivated to make changes?

Anna Quinlan in her book Black and Blue writes about a domestic violence victim who fled from her abusive husband. She ran with her son, leaving everyone and everything she knew. She changed her name and went deep into hiding. When the woman wouldn’t “follow the rules” about staying in hiding, her caseworker told her she could die if she didn’t do what she was told. The woman thought about how her caseworker was no different than her abusive husband – both threatened her with death to get her under control. We in the criminal justice system do this too. When a woman doesn't want to pursue charges or cooperate with the police, we tell her she is going to die if she doesn't do what we say. We mean to help her, but really, how are WE different that HIM. If you don't do what we say, you'll die.

So – people who live in “high crime” areas and battered women – they all know where they live, what they face. As a matter of coping, maybe they don’t sit around and think about it all the time. So, maybe instead of threats, we could offer compassion? We could ask instead, how we can help. We can empower people to make their own lives better. We can raise awareness about the causes of violence. We can address larger issues such as poverty, racism, and sexism that increase violence. We can demand accountablity from the sources of power.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Boys' View of Home Violence

When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.
- Mother Teresa

Not long ago John, 8, and his brother, Mike, 6, and I sat on the floor in my office and played with wooden blocks. Their younger sister, Lucy, age 3, played with some toys nearby. Their mother was speaking with one of my co-workers about her violent ex-boyfriend, Richard. John, Mike, and I stacked up the blocks as high as we could and then one of them knocked them over. While John played, he kept a watch on his younger sister. If Lucy walked too far away, he got up and gently brought her back closer to him.

While we played, we talked. I asked them if they knew why their mom was at our office. They said it was for their mom to talk about Richard. I nodded. I asked them if that was a good thing and they both agreed it was. We kept playing and talking about school and kid stuff. I asked John about the abrasion on his face (I already knew from the police report he got that defending his mom). He said, “Richard did it when he pushed me.” I nodded again and asked him if it hurt. He said it didn't.

I told the brothers what I tell a lot of kids, that this is grown-up business and their job is to worry about kid business. Kid business is going to school, playing, reading, running around, stuff like that. I do realize how naive that is because some “kid business” is the stuff that would make many of us cringe. Some kids’ business is staying safe and protecting their mom and counting how many beers dad is drinking before trouble starts.

Still – I tell them that to say that they can’t control what us grown-ups do in case they feel like they are supposed to. I also talk with their mothers about the same thing. The normal parent-child relationship gets turned upside down in a lot of homes with domestic violence. The kids take on the role of protecting and comforting the parents. Isolation comes with family violence, so parents start to look at their children as their friends and confidants. I remember one formerly battered woman told me her 7 year old daughter was “her best friend.” What a burden for a kid to carry.

The darker side is when the kids emulate the role of the abuser and disrespect or even hurt their mothers. We found this to be true when we looked at some juvenile family violence cases a few years ago. We thought we’d find that juveniles charged with domestic violence were assaulting the male in the home, possibly protecting the female. What we found most often was that male juveniles assaulted female heads of households, a boy after his father’s own heart.

I talked with John and Mike about how and when to call 911, how to get out of the room if something violent happens, and – how it is NOT their fault. I told them Richard was in jail and we were going to talk with their mom about some grown-up ideas on how to be safe. John looked at me and plainly said, “He’ll send other people.” Then, John told me he didn’t need to call the police. He stood up and said, “I’m protecting my mom.” He looked very proud of himself and I told him he was very brave and how lucky his mom was to have such wonderful children who loved her so much.

After I talked with them, I talked with mom and and told her about my conversation with her boys. She was ashamed about not being able to protect them. We told her she was in fact protecting them. We talked about ways to stay safer and ways to heal.

At 8 years of age, precious John knows what battered women and children know without a doubt. We can’t protect them. He knows the grown-ups – the social workers, the police, the courts, and the lawyers can’t protect his mother. He knows that when Richard comes back, or if he sends one of his friends, it will only be him and Mike and Lucy. He’s going to be ready.
Mark Wynn is a grown-up boy who watched his mother get beat over and over, who tried to protect her, who did comfort her no doubt, and made plans with his brother to kill his sadistically abusive step-father. He grew up and made the choice to change the world on behalf of his mother. He became a police officer and decided to do what he could to stop domestic violence at a time when it was "a family matter." He started with himself, then he convinced other officers, and whole police departments and communities - he did it person to person. I had the chance to attend a training session with him this week and even to go out to dinner with him and a small group of people afterwards. It was such an honor to meet one of my heroes. As the mother of boys, I can imagine that his mother must have been so very proud of him. And, as a mother who works with other mothers to stay safe, I am so grateful to him. One person really can change the world - if he is ready.
If you want to learn more about Mark Wynn, go to his website:
If you want to learn more about the impact of violence on children, go to Dr. Bruce Perry's website (he's another hero):