It’s not easy to see yourself as a victim

Written by SAFE

For years, Liam’s wife had physically and emotionally abused him—and done so in front of their children. After a particularly violent night, Child Protective Services got involved and referred Liam to SAFE.

He told our advocates that he felt completely alone. As soon as he arrived, we supported him the same way we support every survivor of violence: with understanding and care.

Liam said that his wife had threatened him, hit him, and made him feel helpless. When CPS stepped in, his children were placed in the foster care system.

A SAFE advocate met with Liam, speaking with him in Spanish, which he told us he was much more comfortable with. Talking about the abuse he experienced was hard for him. He felt ashamed. That’s a common thread when there’s family violence—victims feel embarrassed about the abuse their partner put them through. Oftentimes that shame is one of the tools that people who use abuse rely on to control their partner.

Liam said that he was determined to get away from his wife and that his children were his motivation. He wanted custody of his kids. He wanted to be a good father.

As we spoke, he had a hard time accepting that the dynamics so common in domestic violence applied to him. Our SAFE Futures team, which provides services for families who have experienced family violence and are involved with the child welfare system, recommended he enroll in our domestic violence classes.

He began the classes and, over time, began to see his wife’s actions for what they were: unhealthy, controlling, and violent. As his understanding grew, Liam told us that his wife made him feel like less of a man. That he couldn’t talk to anyone because they would make fun of him. And that he couldn’t leave because everyone would know that his wife had hurt him.

These were all tactics that his wife relied on to maintain power over him. And he was starting to realize it. He was eager to learn more and enrolled in our protective parenting classes.

Because he was a survivor with an open CPS case, Liam was eligible for our legal advocacy services. Our legal services team helped him file for a protective order and helped him file for divorce—processes that have been slowed down significantly because of the pandemic.

We wish Liam’s story ended with him obtaining a protective order, separating from his wife, and getting custody of his children. But once his wife found out about the proceedings, she lashed out again. This time, she threatened to kill Liam. For survivors in abusive relationships, the end of a relationship can be one of the most dangerous periods.

Thankfully, Liam had advocates at SAFE who were here to talk with him about his fears and his feelings of helplessness. He had legal support who helped him document the threats. And he had trained staff who care about his wellbeing to help him make a safety plan.

For now, he is living in his own apartment away from his wife and is moving forward with the protective order and the divorce. He understands the steps he has to take to be reunited with his children. And he told us that he’s hopeful for the future, something he hasn’t felt for a very long time.