And that’s very difficult too, because maybe they’re not working, or even if they are working, they may not have access to the financial resources. If there’s children, there may be a threat of custody issues that may come up and lead to a long legal battle, and they might not have the financial resources to fight that battle. They may not have money for housing, they may not have transportation on their own. They may have been threatened that if they leave their partner says they’ll kill them.
And so even though I think the assumption often is that they should just leave, but the reality is that it’s very difficult to leave, even a healthy relationship, even if a case of say, divorce, where there’s no real threat of violence. Just ending a relationship like that can be very difficult, all the emotions that come with that, so then you add on top of that the threat of violence and abuse and it just becomes really very difficult for people.
The Power of Turning Points
Christine: So I think it is important for people to understand that it’s never as easy as just leaving. The other thing that I think is important to remember, and we’ve heard this from many many survivors who participated in our research, is that by the time their relationship ended, their sense of self-worth was basically down to nothing, because their abuser had just stripped it down. But what I loved about the turning points article is it did show that there are these moments or there are these experiences that can help people realize or even. . . one of the important things that we noted in there is that it doesn’t automatically translate from the turning point happened and then they left the next day. Sometimes the turning point happens and then there’s a very long period of planning and developing the resources and kind of strategizing and having a safety plan or working with professionals or a counselor or an advocate. But it could be things like having some sort of external intervention like a friend or family member sitting down and saying that they’re concerned. It could be another sort of external situation like the police being called and having some sort of external involvement. It could be a threat of harm for the children. For some, I know that it was when the violence became extremely severe, and so they were like, if I don’t leave, my life is gonna be over.
And so I think what that shows is that it is important for people to express their concerns, be supportive, if you’re a friend or if you’re a family member, that you can make a difference and don’t get frustrated if the person doesn’t up and leave the next moment, because there may be a lot of things for them to work through, but to help understand that. And often these turning points aren’t just something that happens in an instant, it may be something that occurs over a period of time, whether it’s a few months or a few weeks, or even a few years, where gradually you realize . . . I was trying to fight to save this relationship for the sake of my children but now I have seen enough over the past couple of years that I’m realizing my children are gonna suffer because of this. And so I think it is important to note, though, that, just for people in that situation that there often is one or more kind of sign or moment, light bulb moment, whether that’s a quick moment or it’s over an extended period of time where they just finally realize that they need to leave the relationship, but that it may not be easy.
Helping Others To Understand The Difficulty of Leaving
Nancy: Yeah, I’m really glad that you mentioned the idea of just leaving any kind of relationship is hard, because when I think about teaching people about these issues, as a teacher or as a public speaker, you want to find this point of connection, this point where the person will go “ohhh” because they’ve experienced it. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t experienced the end of a relationship, and that it’s hard to do that. And also, I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t had experience with just having their self-esteem shot, and it may not have been in a relationship, but if a coach, a mean coach, was yelling at them for a semester, or a mean teacher, or whoever it is, a parent, that’s something else that they can relate to.
And so I just really appreciate that there are these - and that kind of was the point of my question - what are these points that we can reference so that the average person will go “ohhh, right, yes, it is hard,” and obviously, that’s on the easier end of the spectrum, compared to the kinds of situations that you’re talking about, but nevertheless, it gets people understanding that “oh, it’s not that easy.”
Christine: Well, and I think, another piece that often goes undiscussed about this but is important to note that a lot of times people who are being abused by their partner, they still love them, and most people who are abusive, I believe, I don’t necessarily have hard and fast research to back this up, but I can kind of speak from the hundreds of survivors and you know, themes that we’ve see, most abusers, they don’t abuse one hundred percent of the time. So it may happen once a month, or it may happen once a week, or once or twice a year, and so then things get better, and then they’re thinking, well maybe they’ve changed, and it’s better. Honestly, that’s a natural cycle in any couple relationship, to some extent, not the abuse piece of it, but there’s gonna be easier times and there’s gonna be harder times and there’s gonna be times when “wow, this person is so wonderful and everything’s so great”, and then there’s gonna be times when it’s like “gosh, this is really hard, it’s really hard to get along with this person right now.”
And so I think that’s something that potentially, especially as you’re thinking about people sharing their stories, that’s something that most people could probably connect with and understand, and you didn’t leave your. . . if everybody left a marriage or any romantic dating relationship at the first sign of trouble, there would never be any romantic relationships ever, because that’s just a part of relationships. And sometimes even in very healthy relationships you can have very unhealthy moments, and the difference, I think, between a healthy relationship and one that potentially is abusive is that in a healthy relationship you can correct that, and you can correct course, and both people take responsibility for something they may have done or said, and then they work on it, but in an abusive relationships you just, you don’t have that.
But even in an abusive relationship, a lot of times things can kind of get smoothed over and people feel better, and especially if there are children involved, the economic dependence at all, where the possibility of leaving just really would mean a substantial change for them. I think people can connect with that more, because like you’re saying, everybody’s experienced that to some degree, most likely. If you have any experience in a relationship, you have the experience where the person you’re in a relationship with does or says something that’s hurtful and then you have to sort through well, do I stay with this person or not, and nobody’s perfect, and we all do it ourselves, too, right? None of us are 100% healthy and positive all of the time. So, I think people can relate to that, too.
I often tell people when I’m teaching, especially if people are really starting to first grapple with these issues, that nobody, really, almost no abusive partner slaps their partner on the first date, right? You know, if they did, the person would almost certainly walk away, even if you have pretty low self esteem, you would get up and walk away, or you would say you don’t want to go out with this person anymore, but that’s not how. . . . Healthy relationships start pretty much exactly the same as unhealthy and abusive relationships do. It’s sort of what happens over time and it makes it very difficult within that relationship to see and evaluate what’s going on.
Nancy: Which brings me back to the Healthy Relationships Initiative, because then if people are educated about what does healthy look like, right, then if you see certain behaviors begin, or start to escalate, then you’re aware.
Christine: Yes. Exactly. And so the more aware somebody is, I believe, of healthy relationships, the more they can start to use that information to evaluate the health of their own relationship. And definitely be able to identify when things are becoming unhealthy, or worse, unsafe, and that’s when abuse would be entering into the picture.
When Intimate Partner Violence and Sex Trafficking Overlap
Nancy: So moving a little more toward sex trafficking specifically, in the blog post that you wrote that I mentioned at the beginning, “Linking Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Survivors of Trafficking” you listed a lot of ways that intimate partner violence and sex trafficking overlap. And, I’m gonna go ahead and list some of these:
Power and control dynamics are present.
The victim is often isolated from others.
The perpetrator limits the victim’s access to financial resources.
The perpetrator uses threats and intimidation to gain and maintain control.
Multiple forms of violence--including physical, sexual, and emotional--may co-occur.
Survivors may be afraid to seek help.
You also mention that there is even a Power and Control Wheel for Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking, which is similar to the Power and Control Wheel that is used widely in domestic violence advocacy work.”
I know that when I read this list . . .it could be the exact same list that you would use to describe someone who is in a sex trafficking situation, or even in a labor trafficking situation. And so my question right now, is, do you think it’s helpful to think of this, these similarities that are going on as a continuum, with domestic violence on one end and trafficking on the other, or is there a better way to think of it, perhaps a different paradigm altogether?
Christine: I think that’s a really interesting question. I would probably frame it as more of a Venn diagram where you sometimes have domestic violence that doesn’t involve any sex trafficking or any sort of trafficking, and then you would have some sex trafficking or any other sort of human trafficking that doesn’t involve any sort of intimate partner violence, but then I think then you have sometimes where they overlap. And so you may have then. . . I guess it would be difficult to say is this primarily sex trafficking or is it primarily intimate partner violence, because I think every case would be very different, but I that it would be better to really think about it that there are some times where there’s overlap in certain cases and other times where there’s not,
So to me I think that image of the Venn diagram probably helps more, and then we can sort of see, but I do think that as you mentioned that we wrote about in the blog post, that there are a lot of similarities. I think, again, maybe backing away from this idea of a continuum or a spectrum, I would think about it also as, all of these are forms of, whether we call it interpersonal violence, or abuse. And I would list a lot of other things on there, too, like bullying, sexual assault that may or may not be in the context of an intimate relationship, so, harassment, which again could be part of an intimate relationship or could be not. So I think there’s all different variations on these abuses of power and control within some sort of interpersonal relationship. And so certainly I think you would see the parallels with sex trafficking if you have some sort of intimate relationship between the people who are involved, the victim and the perpetrator. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s maybe on the same continuum.
When Might Intimate Partner Violence Become Sex Trafficking?
Nancy: So, if we think about that Venn diagram, and let’s say we’re in a circle of intimate partner violence, and then that actually does become the area that overlaps with sex trafficking, I’m wondering, what do you see as possible tipping points which cause intimate partner violence to become sex trafficking. And obviously, somebody wants drugs, and somebody wants money, right? For some reason I’m inclined to think that it’s more complicated then that, but I don’t know.
Christine: So at that point we really probably would need to start looking at the perpetrator and the different power and control dynamics that they are using within that relationship. So if that becomes something that turns into trafficking, if they’re using their partner because they have so much control over them and if they’re using their partner and kind of selling them out for money or what not. But also, I think that’s an interesting question. I’m thinking back to one of the participants in our research who we wrote about in our book, I think it was the opening story of the book that we wrote, “Overcoming the Stigma of Intimate Partner Abuse,”and her abuser had some friends over, and they basically gang raped her. So that, I don’t know, is that a form of trafficking? There may not be any money exchanged, but it certainly was kind of an arrangement of the abuser to bring his friends over.
So I raise that as an example to say, I think it would be that sort of "tipping point" is the word that you used, around the point at which, to some extent, some of it becomes external to that relationship. So as so much of the intimate partner violence that happens does happen behind closed doors, nobody knows about it, nobody else is involved, but I do think that when you start to see a perpetrator who’s maybe involving other perpetrators, or again, bringing in the financial aspect of that, or other exchanges of whatever, resources, for lack of a better word, are being exchanged there. But I guess I would certainly be more concerned about it if you had that piece of it, with the perpetrator bringing in other people in whatever regard, so that would seem like a key distinction to me.
Nancy: It makes me think that if the man and the woman initially had a “real”relationship where they actually did love each other, so let’s say it wasn’t somebody who went after this women specifically with the intention of using her, but started a relationship, but then if the view of the partner starts to be, well, I own her, I’ll use her (stereotypically - I know that men are also trafficked), but I own her, she has to do whatever I want. And starting to think of the woman more as a commodity as opposed to this person that I love, then it seems like, well if she’s just a commodity that I own and I can use, well anything goes.
Christine: Mmm hmm. Unfortunately that mindset is at play even in a lot of intimate partner violence cases where there’s no trafficking involved, where the person, the perpetrator views the other person as their property. If you just even think about the more traditional power and control wheel, which is based in a heterosexual paradigm, but using male privilege, treating her like a servant are things that are listed on there. Yeah, I guess I would think sex trafficking would become maybe a more extreme version of that.
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