Domestic Violence: Collusion & Coercion
Imagine this: Robert and I have known each other since grade school; we’ve been together for about four years and have two children – Amy is 2 years old and Jason is 3 months. We’ve had arguments and fights and separated a couple of times. Robert’s family has interfered from time to time, always taking his side. He’s hit me and pushed me and caused me to fall and break an arm. His family said I deserved it; I should have left him alone and stopped b___ing at him all the time. I’ve had two Orders of Protection against him, but I’ve dropped them. The last order I got, I was threatened by his family members: they went to my home, they called me, telling me I’d better drop the order or else… So, out of fear I dropped the OFP. In the early days of our relationship, a cousin and his sister jumped me and beat me up, because they thought I was mean towards their relative. My in-laws have intimidated me far too many times, and I have had no support against them from Robert.
Collusion is defined as “to act together with a secret understanding, especially with evil or harmful intent.” Coercion is “to make someone do something by using force or threats.” Coercion often plays a part in collusion.
HOW CAN AN ADVOCATE HELP A WOMAN FACED WITH COLLUSION AND/OR VIOLENCE BY EXTENDED FAMILY MEMBERS?
Some suggestions are:
· Help her identify what collusion is, how it affects her as an individual and the impact it has on her family, her community and society.
· Seek a safe place with her, a shelter.
· Talk to her about obtaining an Order for Protection that includes the members of the abuser’s family who are threatening her.
· Tell her the importance of documenting any harassment, stalking and threats (writing down the date, time, place, and who was involved). Make a police report.
· Talk to her about joining a women’s support group. These new friendships will break the isolation that she experiences, and provide support and encouragement – the other members will be there for her.
· Work toward change in your community at both the individual/family and systems level – when the community understands and does not tolerate violence against women, collusion cannot occur.
IDENTIFYING SYSTEMS COLLUSION
What does it look like when the system that is supposed to keep a battered woman safe colludes? Put yourself in the following situation:
You are an advocate at a tribal domestic violence program, and are called to a home by a woman that you have worked with before. When you arrive, the tribal police are already there. Prior to your walking in the house you hear a lot of noise; the television is blaring, it sounds like a drinking party has been going on. When you enter the house, you find Anna in the kitchen pacing back and forth, when you approach her you notice her hair is disheveled, she has been crying, and her clothes are in disarray. Anna tells you that the kids are in her bedroom and that she has packed a bag, but Thomas has refused to let her leave. Tonight, he assaulted her in the bedroom when his buddies were in the living room watching the game. They have been drinking all day. During the assault, Thomas put his hands on her throat and tried to shut her up by strangling her until she passed out. You walk into the living room where there are two tribal police talking to Thomas. Thomas and his buddies are being loud and arguing with the police as they are talking. Thomas is saying that Anna is mad because he is watching Sunday football and she is being a “b___”. You ask Anna if the police talked to her when they arrived and she says no; she has been in the kitchen and they went to straight to Thomas when they came in. Thomas overhears you talking to the police—you are asking for a safe escort out of the house for Anna and the boys—and yells that Anna doesn’t need a safe escort, he isn’t stopping her, and get the ____ out of the house. Anna gets the boys and you all walk out of the house to your car. Shortly after you exit the house, the police come out and as they get into their car, you ask if they are going to arrest Thomas. They say no – Anna had no visible signs of injury; she seemed as though she had been drinking as well. The party just got out of hand.
Systems collusion can be difficult to identify. Is it just one case of an individual’s poor response? Or is it a case of weak policy and procedure? Beyond immediate safety concerns – getting Anna and her children to shelter – what can be done to address this? Looking at the above scenario, consider the questions below:
1. Who is at risk?
2. What are the safety concerns?
3. Identify the accountability concerns in the above scenario.
4. Can you identify system responses: procedures / practices that require change at the institutional level (systems advocacy)?
When friends, family and /or systems and institutions collude with the abuser, they hold the abuser’s pattern of violence in place. Only when such collusion is addressed and stopped, will the abuser will be held accountable. Violence should not be tolerated at all. Family and friends who harass, threaten, stalk, and physically assault the battered woman think that they are showing their support and love to their son, brother, uncle, friend, or cousin by their actions, but their actions have also been abusive. Their actions are not usually seen and identified as abusive, and if their behaviors are addressed, there will be resistance and denial by those family members. They have lived and practiced the value of “family ties” for so long, that even when a family member is clearly abusive, they will still be devoted, and blindly so. Many times, this devotion to family is so blind that the abuser may support his female relative when she is abused by her partner, but finds that he feels justified in his mind to abuse his own partner.
A battered woman’s safety and holding her abuser accountable must be the focus of the family and the community. A battered woman’s life is always on the line from the moment she awakes to the time she crawls into bed at night. Isn’t the sacred gift of life more valuable than allowing an abuser continue to abuse in the name of family ties? Where are our priorities?