The news that former NFL player Chad Wheeler pled not guilty to charges of domestic violence against his girlfriend, was granted bond, and is now under house arrest have caused those who have worked closely with domestic abuse survivors to fear for the safety of the survivor.
In court documents obtained by Seattle’s KOMO News, the victim expressed her own concerns as well when she wrote, “I want you to know that I believe that as long as [Wheeler] is not in custody I am not safe…. Wheeler never called the police [after the assault] even though he thought I was dead. … This current status places my safety at risk, and I do not believe that a protective order or a condition of release is sufficient to keep me safe.”
This feeling of a survivor’s safety being jeopardized after speaking out as a victim is quite common and entirely justified, especially if a perpetrator was not served a justice that the victim seemed appropriate or if the perpetrator does not uphold the legal measures in place to not contact or approach the victim — which, unfortunately, happens often.
Why Do Survivors Fear?
According to Professor Rachel Pain from Durham University’s analysis in Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse, “In several cases, interviewees described their abuser returning to the house they were living, whether or not they had an injunction or other legal measure to prevent this. In others, the abuser’s ongoing contact with children provided the opportunity for the perpetrator to abuse the [victim],”
For such reasons, it is important that the formal and informal supports and services surrounding the domestic abuse victim understands the position that the victim is in and puts their safety first. This can be done in a multitude of ways, but mainly hearing out the questions and concerns of the survivor and allowing the victim to process their realistic fears.
This can also start off with the judicial system improving the safety of domestic violence victims. View some of my recommendations for the judicial system directly from my book, “Surviving Domestic Abuse: Formal and Informal Supports and Services.” For a more detailed insight, feel free to purchase the book HERE.
Recommendations for Judicial Systems to Improve the Safety of Domestic Violence Survivors
Judges should consider aligning themselves to the victim’s overall health and safety is given the tangible evidence presented from each side and the ability to easily identify the victim versus the abuser.
The victim’s safety NEEDS to be the priority in a court of law. Judges need to understand the difficulty that victims might face with confronting their abuser in the same room, as well as the overwhelming intensity of fear, intimidation and terrorism that might resurface.
Judges need to take a stance to empower the victim by asking her what she wants to see happen and how the system can help her feel safe and protected.
While these improvements may not 100% resolve the victim’s continuous fear after speaking out, it may be a big step to getting there. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, feel free to contact me to take your first, safe steps in help and support or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799 – 7233.
Together, we can help victims live freely and out of fear again.
KOMO News Surviving Domestic Abuse: Formal and Informal Supports and Services Professor Rachel Pain Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse