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Letters to Loyola: Why You Should Care About Domestic Violence

October 21, 2021

Dear Loyola,

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, a brief respite from the reality that we generally pay so little attention to domestic violence. For ten years, I had the humbling experience of running a domestic violence legal clinic, representing women (and sometimes men) escaping brutal and cruel relationships. For my clients, leaving often required both risking their lives and extricating themselves from a legal and financial nightmare. Even if survivors were willing to escape with no more than the clothes on their backs, abusers could keep hostages – children often not protected by the family law system. I learned more about strength and courage from these clients than I can describe. (And got frequent help from Loyola experts like Dr. Rae Taylor.)

Many of you reading this have been through abuse yourselves, or experienced domestic violence or child abuse in your own homes growing up. I hope that you will (or have) gotten the help you need to process the searing trauma, the feeling of powerlessness when you can’t protect yourself or your parent, the anger and despair. I hope you know that you are not alone. I can’t tell you how many people, from every profession and walk of life, have whispered to me their painful secrets. I’m so proud of you for surviving.

There is so much to say – too much complexity to explain in an email. But I want to remind all of us that the only thing victims of domestic violence have in common is terrible luck. The only thing they “deserve” is empathy and help. Don’t ever confuse their strength with masochism. Don’t ever assume that if you were in their shoes, you would be able to find an easy way out. Listen to them. Learn from them. And fight for them – you don’t have to go to another country to work for human rights.

The depressing reality is that all of us might find ourselves in their shoes someday. The red flags are subtle. Abusers are pretty good at holding it together at the beginning until you are invested and stuck. (Some of my clients were hit for the first time on their wedding night.) Remember that the primary purpose – and harm – of domestic violence is the attempt to control you. Jealousy and possessiveness aren’t love (no matter how many movies and songs try to tell us otherwise). When someone starts gaslighting you, makes you doubt yourself, checks your phone, demands your whereabouts or chases off your friends – run, quickly. And know that the rest of us will be there for you, with respect and support.

Prayers and blessings,

Tania Tetlow