Written by attorney Margaret H. Brost

How can you protect yourself and your children when your spouse is abusive?

The most important first step for anyone in an abusive relationship is to get very clear that being abused is not ok with you. Getting to that point is often the hardest thing for a victim to do. While there may indeed be reasons why someone is being abusive of you, a reason is not an excuse. Unfortunately, until a victim truly believes that they do not deserve to be abused, it is unlikely that they can protect themselves or their children. The change in thinking that is required is up to the victim because it is the one thing a victim has total control over. Once a person is committed to the belief that abuse should not be tolerated, they are much more likely to make use of the many community resources available. There are domestic violence shelters throughout Washington and all of the county courts have people available that will help a person get an immediate restraining order. The courts in our community are particularly knowledgeable about domestic violence and take this issue very seriously. Sometimes it almost seems as if judges are so eager to protect victims that they grant protection orders on very little evidence. They also do not hesitate to require domestic violence assessments and compliance with treatment. I do want to remind victims that even if you have a protection order -- it is just a piece of paper. It is not safety. Victims must remain proactive and have a safety plan in place. The domestic violence shelters located in almost every community can help a victim put such a plan in place. The other thing I would recommend to a victim of abuse is to get into counseling and stay there for as long as it takes to feel whole and complete again. Until one has regained a sense of control over their life, it is very easy to become a victim again. The last thing I want to say is that for us attorneys, our worst nightmare is that one of our clients will be injured by a spouse or, perhaps even worse, that our client will commit violence. We had a murder-suicide in our community a few years ago, and every single person - from the two lawyers, their staff, the casa worker, the Guardian ad Litem and the Judges who had made rulings – everyone was affected by that family’s tragedy. We all spent time reflecting on whether there was something we could have done differently. I hope that if there is someone out there who worries that they will not be taken seriously, that they will now know that they are not alone and that there is help available.

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