According to an article published by Slate this week, the prosecuting attorney in Honolulu created stipulations for victims of violence to receive services in the local shelter. As of today, July 15, 2017, the article is available for review here.
In this piece it states the following conditions must be met if a person desires to receive services from the 6.2 million dollar domestic violence shelter:
- All cell phones must be turned over upon entry (victims are not free to call support systems when needed)
- All laptops are confiscated (survivors cannot research, type anything up, and so forth)
- There must be a promise to testify against their abuser
ISSUE #1: Treating victims as if they do not know how to care for themselves.
Slate’s piece itself actually gives us a clue to the underlying issue. It says the prosecutor proudly stated his office was doing “a lot of things to help victims of domestic violence, even when the victims did not know what’s good for them.”
This is the core and heart of the issue: There is a problem when we do not believe victims know what is best for them.
Survivors of violence are the experts in their own lives. They know when it is a good time to leave. They know when it is safe to testify and they certainly are aware of what is “best for them.”
We must continually affirm survivors are competent at living their own lives.
ISSUE #2: Taking away survivors ability to make choices.
If a survivor needs to talk to a friend while receiving emergency, life saving shelter, they are going to need their phone.
If a victim wants to relax and listen to music on their cell or laptop, they are going to need those items.
Just imagine what it would be like to have your entire world flipped upside down by being homeless and suddenly forced to live with people who are traumatized like you. Visualize yourself in a strange room, a different bed, and not having access to your phone. Smart phones are like an appendage. These days it seems everyone needs their device simply to check the time.
We cannot force decisions on victims about their own electronic devices. We can help them turn off location finders but the choice always remains with the survivor. (Note: If it becomes a safety issue for all who remain in the shelter, then perhaps it becomes a topic of discussion– but even then, every opportunity for autonomy and agency must be given to the survivor).
ISSUE #3: Putting the responsibility for justice on the victim.
If a survivor knows testifying against their abuser will lead to being killed or tortured, they may not be quick to help the state. Only the victim knows when death is a very likely possibility
The responsibility for justice does not lie in the hands of the victim. The responsibility lies with the state. If a survivor refuses to testify, the prosecutor is responsible for finding a way to seek justice through a variety of different options.
Thus, with these three serious issues, I assert:
If we behave like this with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and set up conditions for our compassion and services, we are no better than their abusers in how we control them.
Just as an abuser takes away the victim’s ability to choose what they do with their body and life… and just as a perpetrator treats the victim as if they are unable to know what is best for them… and just like an abuser forces their victim to take all responsibility and blame, so also do we commit the same violations when we control survivors with conditions to services.
Therefore, I urge us to respond to survivors of violence in ways that affirm the autonomy and dignity of the person. We must create opportunities for people to exercise their own agency and choice, even when we disagree with it.
For this is how we make a big impact on transforming the trauma violence creates. This is how we counteract the detriment of the abuse. This is how we give survivors tools for healing.
This article is available for republication. Make a request to: DrChristySim@gmail.com