Domestic violence: Damas case shows how beloved friend can become ...
Naples Daily News - Naples,FL,USA
“If batterers presented as batterers, nobody would date them or marry them,” Oberhaus ... including figuring out who would get custody if there are kids and ...
- By ELYSA BATISTA
- Posted September 26, 2009 at 8:58 p.m.
BOOKMARK DAMAS SECTION
WHERE TO FIND HELP
■ Shelter for Abused Women and Children: www.naplesshelter.org or call (239) 775-3862. If you are in a domestic violence situation, call the shelter’s 24-hour crisis line (239) 775-1101.
■ Abuse Counseling and Treatment: www.actabuse.com or call (239) 939-2553. If you are in a domestic violence situation, call the shelter’s 24-hour crisis line (239) 939-3112.
NAPLES — It’s a very slow process.
That’s how Melissa Dias described how a woman goes from partner to domestic violence victim.
The process answers the question many Southwest Floridians asked as the news of the death of Guerline Damas and her five children spread and the family’s history of domestic violence came to light.
Mesac Damas, 33, is accused of recently killing his wife, Guerline Dieu Damas, 32, and their children Meshach “Zack” Damas, 9; Maven, 6; Marven, 5; Megan, 3, and Morgan, 19 months, by slitting their throats and stabbing them. Court records show there was prior abuse in the home.
So why did she stay?
The truth, experts and advocates agree, is not as simple as picking up your bags and walking out.
Women don’t go into relationships thinking they are going to be abused, said Linda Oberhaus, executive director of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Collier County.
“If batterers presented as batterers, nobody would date them or marry them,” Oberhaus said.
Both Dias and Oberhaus said that it’s only once trust is established -- between the couple -- that abusers begin to show signs of possible domestic violence.
“I think that’s important,” Oberhaus said. “If he abused her on the first date, she would not have dated him.”
With many victims of domestic violence, Dias said, they saw the first sign of abuse but didn’t recognize what it meant.
“They realize something is wrong but they don’t know what it is,” Dias said.
Dias is a member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and has been affiliated for seven years with the Naples shelter. She now writes a blog about domestic violence.
Verbal abuse is usually the first step an aggressor takes against the victim, Oberhaus said.
“It happens so frequently, that they are really reduced to nothing,” Oberhaus said of the emotional abuse. “It’s almost like brainwashing.”
Simple attacks like “You’re dumb” or “You’re fat” to “Nobody will love you” and “You can’t make it without me” take an immense toll on a victim.
Systematic isolation usually follows.
“A stereotypical abuser won’t want her to have friends,” Dias said. “There is jealousy.”
Women are kept isolated even from family members, so if the woman interacts with them they would still be distant and quick to sever relations if the abuser demanded it.
“A woman slowly starts to lose her self-esteem and confidence,” she said. “Eventually physical abuse happens.”
It’s about power and control.
“Batterers choose who, when and where they batter,” Oberhaus said.
And to those who say, “Batterers can’t control themselves,” Oberhaus said that’s just not true.
“They are battering behind closed doors,” she said. “You don’t see a husband battering his wife out in public. He batters her privately. In a gut level, they know this is not OK … that this is not acceptable.”
Abuse has a significant psychological impact on a victim.
According to Oberhaus, research shows that as many 60 percent of battered women also reported depression.
In addition, battered women are at greater risk of suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Even so, many victims marry their abusers, Dias said.
“You end up really feeling like you’re stuck in a situation,” Dias said. “You’ve married someone that is supposed to be with you forever.”
Love is one of the many reasons women stay in abusive relationships and it’s the hardest thing for many people to understand, Oberhaus said.
“You can’t leave out the fact that they probably do love their partner,” Oberhaus said.
Between having children in common and a long history, many women also believe that they can change the man.
And most don’t even acknowledge they’re being abused.
Because the abuser is always blaming the other person as the one at fault, Dias said, it creeps into a woman’s psyche.
“And eventually you believe it,” she said.
Domestic violence victims have to consider several issues before even attempting to reach out for help to leave a bad situation, including figuring out who would get custody if there are kids and determining if they could support their family if they leave.
“They’re afraid for their safety. They’re afraid for their children,” Oberhaus said. “They don’t want to be homeless and they need to have the ability to care for their kids.”
It’s that need to care for the kids that can both inspire or hold back a battered woman’s attempts to leave her abuser.
“In many relationships men are the breadwinners,” Oberhaus said. “They can easily say ‘You don’t have the resources’ and threaten to take the kids away. That is a real Catch-22.”
Kerrin Darkow, who works with the victim help line at the National Center for Victims of Crimes, said what caught her attention in the case of Guerline Damas was that she reached out for help several times.
“We do know that women in these situations try many different avenues to get help,” she said.
And for a victim of domestic violence, wanting to leave and being able to leave are two quite different things.
Fear and the fact the couple had five children between them could have contributed to her hesitance to leave.
“It’s a pipe dream to think that she could leave with her children and be fine,” said Darkow, who added that in many domestic violence cases, abusers use children as bargaining chips to get their victims to do what they want. “Leaving an abuser does not mean you are safe from an abuser.”
The time after a victim finally escapes the abuser is also the most dangerous time for them.
The best thing a friend or family member who realizes someone is in a domestic violence situation can do is call the local domestic violence hot line to create a safety plan, Oberhaus said.
“The reality is that a woman is most likely to be killed at the time that she leaves,” Oberhaus said. “And that’s a fact.”
“Men like to control you and scare you,” Dias said. “They will use whatever means to keep control.”
Dias said she found a new beginning when she connected with the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples.
The shelter and others like it, she said, defy the myth that battered women’s shelters are cold, awful places.
“It’s just given me so much confidence -- confidence I never had in my life,” Dias said of the shelter and weekly support group she has attended for nearly seven years. “It’s more like a sisterhood ... It’s been a godsend for me.”
As for people asking, “Why does any woman stay?” Oberhaus said that it’s the wrong question to ask.
“When someone asks, ‘Why did she stay?’ -- that is victim-blaming,” Oberhaus said. “The question should be: ‘Why would a loving father and husband emotionally or physically batter his children or partner?’ ”
Editor’s note: Monday, the Daily News begins a series of profile stories about the Damas family victims.Technorati Tags: Domestic,violence,Damas,friend,Naples,News,Oberhaus,custody,kids,ELYSA,BATISTA,September,Homicide,Investigation,Sept,Previous,Evidence,Guerline,Documents,BOOKMARK,SECTION,FULL,COVERAGE,Click,Mesac,WHERE,FIND,HELP,Collier,Shelter,Women,Children,situation,crisis,Abuse,Treatment,Melissa,Dias,woman,victim,Southwest,Floridians,death,history,wife,Dieu,Meshach,Zack,Maven,Marven,Megan,Morgan,Court,records,truth,relationships,Linda,director,Both,signs,victims,member,National,Coalition,Against,Verbal,aggressor,Simple,Nobody,Systematic,isolation,abuser,friends,jealousy,self,Batterers,husband,impact,depression,addition,Post,Traumatic,Disorder,Love,fact,person,psyche,Catch,Kerrin,Center,attention,times,Fear,cases,scare,myth,places,life,godsend,father,Editor,series,photos,members,doors,Crimes,situations,avenues,hour,five,abusers,seven