Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Tis the Season to be Safe in Your Home'

Every year my mother made a big deal about Christmas from planning out what color to make the eyes on the gingerbread cookies, to the day she, my brother, and myself would go downtown to Marshall Field’s department store for our annual Santa visit and photo. The bright lights and holiday decorations lining downtown store windows and street lamps always made me forget, if only for a moment, our lives were anything but bright and hopeful.

I have to give my mother credit, as difficult as our daily fight for survival she created happy memories for us. Sometimes, the holiday did not turn out as planned and we ended up on Christmas morning in the emergency room as she received medical attention from injuries caused by my father. My little brother and I viewed stuffing every pocket in our coat and pants with candy canes while at the hospital as a cool thing. Instead of opening presents, we went back to the house with a cup of hot chocolate and whip cream prepared with love.

Hope was always a magical illusion it did not matter if it was Christmas or not. The days and months always felt as if they were continuous in a never ending road of unpredictable behavior by a man authorized  to carry a gun and a badge to protect the streets of Chicago, while hiding behind the closed door of our home like a coward, terrorizing his own family. In our house you told time by the changing of seasons and what you needed to wear before heading out the door. During the holidays it was the one time of year that I didn't wish anything from the Sears catalog that would arrive sometime after Thanksgiving. If Santa was real, perhaps he would find us a nice safe place like I remembered watching in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, where we could hang our stockings behind a tree tacked to the wall and live happily, far away from my father, forever.

Growing up, my brother and I never really counted on much.  Making plans for anything was wishful thinking. More than fifty years later, I have no closure, just an acceptance of the violent events that would eventually hijack my mother’s life. The last memory of her is 10 feet away from the oven where we baked Christmas cookies, throughout the kitchen her blood spilled over onto the once bright yellow pattern on the floor tiles where my brother and I once sat anxiously waiting for the Christmas cookies to finish baking. In the bedroom; a couple hundred feet away, dead from a self inflicted gunshot, my father.  Although not visible to the human eye, there is a tattoo etched deep inside as it is for all those whom survive homicide; a permanent scar from a battle I would rather erase from my memory.

The effects of the violence would follow me into my own world as an adult, a secret I kept hidden from friends, colleagues and relationships. Suddenly, my secret was out, unwillingly I was a victim and a survivor of a life I did not ask for nor chose as my life's journey. In 1988, my parents divorced and the holidays were around the corner. My mother and I spent the Christmas holidays together, the first without my father and the last one with my mother.

Abruptly, in 1989, after their deaths, I left a successful business career for a world that provided little, if any, hope or assistance to abuse victims and their children.

I did not realize when I began working with victims of intimate partner abuse my world would be an important life raft for safety in keeping others alive. Over a decade of running a national agency and providing direct services, I began to incorporate strategies like no other in the country, as social service agencies were not familiar with the battleground I knew intimately.

Service providers and agencies layered by politics and paperwork with government forms and numbers instead of thinking outside the box; a box that never belonged there in the first place if lives were to be saved.

This rigid box of "rules and restrictions" is what often kicks the safety and services of a victim to the streets and back to the violence. Yes, a woman returns to the abuser numerous times before she leaves but it’s also because the family courts and services are either limited or dysfunctional.

Far too often services are based on income either too much, too little or there is not enough funding available for what is required. Ironically, the funding issues in my world were never an obstacle in keeping victims alive. With little or no resources, each person I assisted did not die. Instead, they moved forward with their lives, most went back to school to obtain degrees others found paying jobs as the sole support of the household turning their lives around minus the threat of violence. I think it was because I took the time with them, something I noticed from the  onset that was not happening when a victim reached out for help.

I learned from being in the trenches and providing hands on services combined with making time to explain to victims-- meant the difference between life and death. I would go beyond the sterile basic information and red tape of guide lines set by funders and various government agencies, people who were and continue to do so today, more concerned with tabulating stats of human lives that amounted to nothing more then entering useless garbage into a data base that had nothing to do with safety or leaving and never returning to the abuse or the system for help. One cannot effectively assist a victim of intimate partner by sitting behind a desk when they have never left the comfort of their offices, when they have never been inside the real world of sheer terror and violence that victims endure daily. Often placing victims in something labeled a shelter, government funded that does not in many ways meet the needs of victims. As I have always said like our own DNA no two cases of abuse are alike.

The days of placing a bandage on intimate partner violence, as though it were a boo-boo, are over. When a system does what it has always done, the results will be the same. It did not work out for women like my mother, unable to speak today, because they were silenced in the prime of their lives, murdered in cold blood.

As we enter the year 2012, know that the death toll across the country for those who lose their lives because of intimate partner violence does not have to be a predictable outcome in some hardwired data base, ultimately marked by a cemetery headstone as in years past. A child no longer has to acompany their mother to the emergency room on Christmas morning filling their pockets with candy canes in a cold waiting room as medical staff stitch their mothers head or set a broken limb and sent back out into uncertainty and fear that the next time they might not be so lucky.

In the New Year I would like everyone who reads this to join me in ending the abuse. How, you ask? Each time a news story about a victim who was killed comes across your facebook page or you read about a case in the Huffington post, AOL News, Google, News vine, USA Today, the Examiner, Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times or see it on Nancy Grace, Fox News, Good Morning America, MSNBC, the Oprah Show, Dr. Phil, NPR Radio or any number of news programs send them a brief paragraph about the book Time's Up and that these cases no longer have to be tragic. That women such as Susan Powell, Stacy Peterson, Jacque Waller, Michelle Parker, Venus Stewart, Angel Downs, Renee' Pernice, Kathleen Savio and others if killed their words will speak from the grave in a court a court of law. The person responsible will be arrested.

The upside is that this book saves lives. The mothers, sisters, girlfriends and children currently living in fear who live in harm’s way each and every day need this book the most. It is up to us to see that the information and knowledge is in their hands.

And to ensure every domestic violence agency, court building, library, church, community center, hospital, business and school has a copy of the book Time's Up: A Guide on How to leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships. And for a domestic violence provider, social worker, first responder, government agency, school, business or individual who says that cannot afford it? You cannot afford not too!

Time's UP !!!


Susan Murphy Milano is a staff member of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education as a educator and specialist with intimate partner violence prevention strategies directing prevention for high risk situations and cases.

A national trainer to law enforcement, training officers, prosecutors, judges, legislators, social service providers, healthcare professionals, victim advocates and the faith based community and author.. In partnership with Management Resources Ltd. of New York addressing prevention and solutions within the community to the workplace. Host of The Susan Murphy Milano Show,"Time'sUp!" . She is a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated "The Roth Show" with Dr Laurie Roth and a co-host onCrime Wire. Online contributions: Forbes : Crime, She Writesproviding commentary about the hottest topics on crime, justice, and law from a woman’s perspective, as well as Time's Up! a blog which searches for solutions (SOS) for victims of crime



Donna R. Gore said...

A person cannot read this post and not feel fortunate... fortunate to not have suffered such pain uncertainty and the unpredictability of it all. While many of us were wishing for the next Barbie doll, Susan only wanted safety!

Her words concerning ending intimate partner homicide is the difference between lip service by government agencies and rolling up your sleeves, really doing something... working in the trenches.
How can we get the financial support for these endeavors?

Are you amazed to know that the highest paid prosecutors in the land work for internet shopping networks, ($182,000 annually) gas, oil and the tobacco industries? Now that's what I call a crime....



TigressPen said...

One thing I am thankful for is that your father wasn't one of those DV killers who aspired to kill not only his spouse but the children of the marriage with her too. You survived. Your brother survived. The future for you both was forever changed and not particularly for the good but changed just the same. I'm so thankfully for how yours was changed. You no longer saw the violence up close and personal your father inflicted on his family but in your minds eye and heart. Still, those memories gave you so much and you are the #1 to turn to for so many other victims such as yourself and brother were. I pray often that 'Time's Up' will be there for all those experiencing similar or same as you and your family did. I've never been one who believes DV or any other evil perpetrated by humans will be wiped from this life, but may your vision, that gift of words in the books you've written to help the abused, live on forever and continue to help many stay alive.
Merry Christmas.

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