Intern: Lauren Wolfinger
Summer 2012: Legal Internship
It strikes me that so many of us, myself included, normally would not have the opportunity to know the extent of the physical and psychological coercion that compels victims to stay in abusive situations. Even as an educated person who makes an effort to be socially conscious, I had such a passive, perfunctory sympathy for these victims. While obviously I thought it was sad that anyone lived in an abusive situation, I too wondered why people did not simply leave the relationship. I pitied these individuals who I believed must not have self esteem or will power to make the best decisions for themselves. I had these assumptions, as many others do, because I had no real understanding of domestic violence.
When I started my work on the domestic violence homicide prevention project, I very quickly learned that the obstacles facing victims were far beyond the low self-esteem victim caricature I assumed perpetuated these situations. Some are practical obstacles, like when a victim lives with and shares a lease with the batterer and would therefore be unable to afford another place to live. Other obstacles revolve around the coercion batterers employ to keep their victims from leaving. Batterers threaten to hunt down their victims even if they leave, or threaten to kill not only the victim but the victim’s children and family members. Statistics show that batterers make good on these threats, that most intimate partner murders occur within two months of the victim leaving the relationship. Victims inherently sense this danger, and it is these statistically validated fears, not some character weakness, that keeps them from escaping their abusive situation.
After about two weeks working on this project, armed with my greater understanding of domestic violence and its victims, I went to a high risk training conference Jane Doe Inc. organized with the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. While I felt I had made great strides in understanding of the suffering endured by domestic violence survivors, nothing could have prepared me for this in-depth coverage of strangulation. I listened intently to the details about strangulation, like how it feels to be strangled, how physically painful strangulation injuries are, how injuries can worsen for weeks, how survivors realized in those attacks that they were seconds from death. I wondered-what must it be like to sit across from someone who at any second is willing to reach over and take away your life? All of these new thoughts and realizations about the realities the strangulation experience were overwhelming.
During my research of domestic violence homicides, I often come across heartbreakingly tragic cases. After the training and education I’ve acquired from this internship, it is impossible to separate the human suffering associated with the data I examine. Yet, I think it’s important not to deny ourselves the emotions associated with these tragedies. It’s this emotional salience that will continue to affect me after I finish this internship. I came to law school because I believe deeply that law can be compassionate if you choose to make it so, that legal services and advocacy play an important role in giving a voice to those in need. This time at Jane Doe Inc has only deepened my surety that we should all use our talents, whatever they are, to help the individuals living side-by-side with us in our communities.