From the outside, domestic violence may be something that appears cut and dry. For someone with no experience with domestic violence, it may be difficult for them to empathize with and understand victims who choose to stay with or return to their abuser. In TV shows and films, domestic violence is often portrayed as completely loveless relationships with extremely physically violent men that have no admirable traits. They are strictly a glaringly evil villain. However, often this is not the reality for our clients. Domestic violence is an issue riddled with emotions and other factors that can make the relationship difficult to navigate. These factors have rarely been portrayed in the mainstream media.
One of the most recent examples of domestic violence in the mainstream media comes from the HBO series Big Little Lies. The show is a murder mystery centered around three mothers of young children living in the glamorous Monterey, California. One of the mothers is Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman. Celeste appears to have a perfect life: she's beautiful, has two adorable twin boys, and a rich husband, Perry, who seems to put her on a pedestal. However, as the show unfolds, Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgard, reveals increasingly controlling and violent behavior towards Celeste.
What Big Little Lies does differently than other media examples of domestic violence or sexual assault, is that it portrays nuances that may exist in the relationship between victim and abuser. These nuances make up the cycle of domestic violence that is common in abusive relationships: first the tension building (walking on eggshells), then the violence incident, then the "Honeymoon" phase (apologies, gifts, saying they will never do it again). For example, there are many cases where Celeste fights back against Perry's outbursts, throwing objects or even her own fists in self-defense. Juxtaposed next to these violent scenes are scenes that display Celeste and Perry’s relationship as seemingly normal, Perry’s talents as a caring father, and Perry giving Celeste beautiful gifts as an apology, creating complexity surrounding their relationship, and leaving gray areas for the victim to interpret the health of their relationship. Peppered through the show are scenes of Celeste visiting a counselor to talk about her marriage. She makes the anger and violence in her relationship a plural matter. She tells the counselor, “We both become violent sometimes. I take my share of the blame. I’m not a victim here.”
Let's pause and make a very important note here: Celeste fighting back against Perry does not make her relationship mutually abusive. Mutually abusive relationships rarely exist because abuse is ultimately about power and control. One person making the choice to exert power and control over another. Someone may look at Celeste and Perry and see two people physically fighting, and Perry may try to get Celeste to believe that she is also violent, but the fact remains that Perry is the aggressor with a desire for power over his wife. Protecting yourself against violence is very different than being aggressive in response to the loss or perception of loss of power and control over another person.
Of course, it is evident to the viewer that the main problem with her marriage is Perry’s obsessive need for control over Celeste. The fact that Celeste so adamantly rejects the label of “victim” is shocking to many viewers, but perhaps less so to real-life victims of domestic violence. Celeste’s denial, like many real-life victims, could be because she is afraid of the reality of an abusive husband and what that means for her sons, she is fearful of the implications of leaving Perry, she is fearful for her life and what he is capable of, she does not want to appear weak, or maybe she is even holding on to the good memories and moments she has with Perry. There are endless barriers a victim faces in her journey to safety. We actually wrote about barriers in a previous blog you can read more about that here. We know the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim is attempting to leave. In fact, more than 75%* of victims killed by their abusive partners are killed as they are trying to leave or shortly after they have ended the relationship. The danger that goes along with attempting to leave is very real, and victims know it.
Such moments are documented in the show. One scene shows the couple slow dancing alone to a song in a very tender and intimate moment. The viewer is able to see the conflicting emotions running through Celeste's mind.
Big Little Lies shows the cycle and complexities of an abusive relationship from the inside. The viewer experiences the good, the bad, and the ugly, and accompanies Celeste as she navigates her own emotions. The viewer sees Perry be charming, triggered, violent, controlling, manipulative, remorseful, and back to charming again in a cycle that continues to repeat throughout the show. Depictions this candid and realistic of domestic violence are rarely been seen in media. Movies and TV shows with themes of domestic violence rarely depict the muddled and grey areas of an abusive relationship, leaving viewers with a black and white idea of domestic violence that does not represent all of the factors that exist in reality. Big Little Lies certainly does not represent every domestic violence experience, but it does successfully show some of the factors that are barriers victims face with their abusers and even the reasons they may not self-identify as being a victim at all.
Realistic portrayals of domestic violence are a positive step that can help to increase awareness, understanding, and empathy in modern society towards victims. Celeste's story in Big Little Lies is one small step toward awareness that can help change the domestic violence narrative in media. She is giving victims a sense of kinship while giving non-victims a deeper understanding of the emotions and complexities involved in abusive relationships. Now we certainly aren't promoting all aspects of the show, but felt the dynamics portrayed are very real and important to have a conversation about.
If you take anything from that conversation, let it be this:
No matter what, at the end of the day abuse is a choice someone makes to exert power and control over another person and no matter the circumstance it is never the victim's fault.
The dynamics of domestic violence are much more complicated and subtle than it seems from the outside. So if you know someone in an abusive relationship- believe them and do not judge them. You truly have no idea what they are experiencing every day.
If you or someone you know needs help please know Friends of the Family can be a resource. You can access free, anonymous information about how we can help at our 24-Hour Crisis Line: 940.382.7273 or 800.572.4031.
Denton County Friends of the Family is dedicated to providing compassionate, comprehensive services to those impacted by rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence while partnering with our community to promote safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention.
Back to school means new teachers, new classrooms, and new school supplies. At DCFOF we want to send the children we serve back to school with the right tools that will lead them to a successful year. That’s why we are partnering with the community to fill 350 backpacks with new supplies so that our clients and their children can start the school year with confidence and comfort.
The Back to School Drive is a cause that is near and dear to our hearts. DCFOF has done a Back to School Drive for over 13 years! If it weren’t for the donations of caring community members, we wouldn’t be able to make the Back to School Drive possible and give our kiddos the supplies they need.
This year, our most needed supplies are backpacks, binders, highlighters, scissors, compasses, protractors, folders, colored pencils, pens, and dividers, although any other school supply items are appreciated. Help us support these children impacted by sexual and domestic violence by donating items at our Outreach Office. If you do not have time to shop for supplies but still want to help, we will shop for you! We accept monetary donations that will go towards our School Supplies Campaign. We request all donations to be made by June 20th to have ample amount of time to organize and pack the supplies for our clients.
For more information about donating or volunteering, visit our website at dcfof.org/backtoschool. We could not help these kids start the school year right without the help of the community. We thank you for each and every contribution made to this cause! Let's work together to send the children we serve back toschool with style!
When our community thinks of our agency, I think they often imagine a survivor who is walking through our door saying I am experiencing violence and I need assistance. For the most part, that is how our agency is designed, for individuals to make these decisions on their own and to decide that they want something different for themselves.
But after serving clients since 1980, our directors recognized there was a whole population of clients that were being underserved. Unintentionally, of course, because our goal is to always help however and whomever we can. There was a population of clients who were told they needed our services by Child Protective Services. CPS would intervene in a client's life based on allegations of domestic violence. They know that we are the experts in handling domestic violence cases, so CPS would send clients to us, often without the victim even being able to recognize they were experiencing these things. We were able to create a class that CPS clients could complete and receive a certificate for, showing that they had learned what domestic violence is and how it affects their children.
I was one of those clients. I knew I was experiencing chaos, and I knew that I didn’t want this for my life. But with the threat of CPS and my ex-husband looming over me, I was angry. I was angry with the system and this “agency” that thought they “knew my life”. But I did it; I signed up for the class reluctantly, with fear and the anxiety of losing my child. I was not a very pleasant client.
But why? Why would I not be nice to someone who just wants to help? I was afraid and lacked the ability to trust anyone. I made it through the class and was able to decide that I could benefit from other services at DCFOF. I was able to identify what abuse was and how I could safely exit the relationship and move on with my life.
That was in 2010. Since then, the agency recognized there are lots more “Rachelle-Like” clients who were afraid and unable to identify the dangerous things that they were experiencing, and they deserved a more tailored form of services to benefit them at their pace.
That is how we were able to reinvent the CPS Mandated class, which we now call ADVANCE: Acknowledging Domestic Violence and Navigating Child Protection Effectively. We redesigned the process in which a client will complete this class by adding an orientation. This helps them get their feet wet with our agency and lets them know who we are, what we do, and how we are a separate entity than CPS. We also have a very specific advocate who is available to case manage for them if they do decide to become a client. And then there is my position; I am a survivor mentor. Like I previously mentioned, I once took this class and sat in their exact seat, confused, sad, scared, and angry. I go through the process with them, sharing my experiences, hoping to give them an opportunity to feel safe and believed.
We have 7 weeks of classes; it is an open group so each group member starts on a different topic. While there may be one member on their first class, there may be a group member on her 4th or 7th class. The classes in ADVANCE are Intimate Partner Violence Overview, Impacts of Violence on Children, Positive Parenting, Self-Care, Boundaries & Communication, Gender Socialization, and Civil & Legal Remedies. Civil and Legal Remedies is a new addition to the group topics. This is an opportunity for one of our on-staff attorneys or legal advocates to come and speak about all of the remedies available to them to help them stay safe. It also gives them another opportunity to choose if they would like to become a client. Once they have completed the classes, they receive a certificate that they share with their CPS worker. The certificate signifies that they have been given every bit of information they can get about how to navigate safety for themselves and their children if they are experiencing domestic violence, but also that they have found a support system that they can access at any time they decide.
The process of this new class satisfies both CPS’s abilities to safety plan with their clients but also our philosophical belief that our clients have to make the decision for themselves.
Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF) joins in with the City of Denton for the 48th Annual Celebration of Juneteenth. The celebration will be held Friday, June 15, and Saturday, June 16, at the Fred Moore Park.
DCFOF will have a booth, and we welcome you to come by and say “hello”. We are providing vital information about our services and our commitment to supporting our African American communities! We will have a spin-to-win game for some really cool prizes, and we will have a box to receive donations. Specifically, we are asking for donations of Black hair care products and toiletry items for our African American clients in shelter. Currently, 49% of our shelter residents are African American.
Why does DCFOF join in with the celebration? Juneteenth symbolizes and celebrates the end of slavery. It represents and means freedom. So in the same way Juneteenth symbolizes the end of slavery, DCFOF works compassionately and comprehensively to be the symbol of what it looks like to work toward the end of domestic violence and sexual assault. And as Juneteenth’s meaning is freedom, we want our clients/survivors to live in freedom away from the harsh realities of DV and SA. DCFOF promotes safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Look for us at the parade which will be at 12:00 noon on Saturday, June 16, and drop by our booth on Friday and Saturday.
While the kids are out of school, DCFOF stays busy! Summer is one of our busiest times, and we tend to see a shelter full of little ones. Living in a group home can be tough, especially for a child, so we do what we can to give them an amazing summer break!
Throughout the summer we will offer a variety of fun and exciting field trips for the kiddos to enjoy. These field trips will provide educational experiences that will help them learn life skills while exploring the world around them. Some of the field trips include:
Nash Farm- Located in Grapevine, this is a historical site where kids can learn about farming, nature, and the history of Texas. Each month Nash Farm presents a different theme centered around heritage skills visitors will be able to use in their daily lives.
Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch- Unlike regular zoos, Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch lets their animals roam freely on the grounds. The kids will have the opportunity to experience wildlife up close while driving through this unique zoo.
Texas Discovery Gardens- There is no better place for kids to learn about snakes, spiders, and other native Texas wildlife! The kids will be treated to animal encounters, talks, crafts, and a picnic in the garden.
Along with these field trips, the shelter has other fun activities planned such as weekly park days, water play time, and movies under the stars. The kids at the DCFOF shelter will always have something exciting to do while their parent utilizes DCFOF services to get back on their feet!
In order to make these events happen and give the kiddos the best summer possible, we still need donations to cover the prices of tickets, gas, food, and water for the kids and volunteers. Your donations will allow each child to have a summer to remember. We thank you for your contributions!
Taste for a Cause
September 22nd, 6pm-10pm
Taste for a Cause supports Friends of the Family on our mission to serve victims of sexual and domestic violence in our community. By having a great time at Taste for a Cause, your support enables us to protect the women and children of Denton County who need it most, and guide them on a path of safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention.
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Taste for a Cause will feature live music, food tastings from chefs and restaurants across the County, tastings of spirits and wines in a speakeasy-style venue, and a little auction fun along the way. Come get passionate about a great cause while enjoying a stellar cocktail. You're Invited!
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Sponsors are an integral part of this event, and enable us to raise the most funds possible to go back into our programs. Every penny counts! To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, click the button below.
Shout out to a few of our sponsors:
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