April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month so let’s talk about spousal abuse. I see it all the time. That confused look when I’m meeting with clients who want a divorce or have been asked for one. One of my first questions is always, “Has there been any abuse?” And there it is, the shoulder shrug and furrowed brow as they reply, “Well what do you mean by abuse?” Unfortunately, many people are not even aware they are in an abusive relationship.
There are those who would never dream of discussing their private lives with friends or family to check if what they are experiencing is ‘normal’. And in some communities where people don’t have access to information, they think that they are the source of their own discomfort and confusion. It doesn’t occur to them that their spouse may be acting abusively. I’ve represented people from almost every cultural community in Israel who wouldn’t call the treatment they are suffering at the hands of their spouses, abusive. They just know they’re ‘unhappy’.
This is any kind of sexual contact forced on someone against their will. There are those who don’t think sexual assault exists in marriage. Far too many women (and men) feel that it’s their duty to provide sexual relations, that it’s ‘owed’ as part of the commitment of marriage even when assault is involved. This can come from cultural beliefs as well as from the individuals doing the abusing.
Striking someone is not the only form of physical abuse. Holding or restraining someone to limit their access to and from a place falls into this category. Locking a person in or out, refusing them the basics of life — water, food, hygiene — are also considered physical abuse.
This is one of the hardest to prove especially in Israel, because it is often confused with anger. Some of the actions involved in this kind of abuse are humiliation, criticism, control and shame, emotional neglect, isolation and blame.
One of the most prevalent and under recognized forms of abuse, this includes being required to account for everything one spends money on. Pressures to quit a job or interfering with the performance of a job can be a sign of financial abuse. When one spouse feels entitled to the other’s money or assets or spends money without their knowledge it could be a red flag. Financially abusive spouses control how all of the household finances are spent, limit their partner’s access to their own bank account and often live in the family home without working or helping with household tasks.
In my commitment to responsibly represent a client it’s incumbent upon me to help uncover any abuse so I can suggest help and properly represent them in negotiations or if necessary, in court.
Being sexually or physically abused is terrible. No one deserves this kind of treatment. But when it’s coming from the person who is meant to stand beside you and protect you it is even more painful. So if you even suspect you are in this position please try to do the following:
- Contact either of these two organizations The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel or Services for Family Violence and Sexual Abuse Victims
- Get out of the situation as soon as you can – leave and call a family member you trust to tell them what is going on.
- If you are attacked or hurt, call the police.
- If you feel threatened, call the police.
Abuse cases can be difficult to prove in court so here are some actions you can take if you are in any kind of abusive relationship. And these apply when going through divorce proceedings as well.
- Try not to be alone with your spouse. A third party presence may protect you and will provide a witness.
- Record abusive behavior by video or audio and keep a dated record of these events in a designated dairy for use later in court.
- Tell someone!!!! Those who know about these events can be a witness for you in court.
Having an attorney to represent you who you can trust and feel comfortable with is one of the most important decisions you will make so learn how to choose an attorney by asking the right questions.
You are not alone. So many people are going through a similar experience and support is out there to help you understand your situation and get out of harm’s way. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month watch for videos, webinars, Facebook Live events and articles to help empower you to move forward into an abuse-free life.