Well before the Covid pandemic began, former New Jersey Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg woke up in a hospital bed as a result of domestic abuse. That was not the first time her former partner subjected her to domestic abuse.
Ms. Rodriguez-Gregg ultimately obtained a Final Restraining Order (“FRO”) against her ex-partner. A few years ago, she told me that there were key flaws with the FRO. She said that “it is just a piece of paper” which an abuser can ignore. But while the FRO process is flawed, an FRO is an important, and often necessary, legal document when bringing a domestic violence action against an abuser.
To try to close this loophole in safety, domestic abuse survivors must feel safe and secure in their homes or temporary housing. For example, Forever Your Overwatch, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey, visits homes of domestic abuse survivors and secures them with security systems, intrusion alarms, doorbell cameras, motion sensors, and also provides survivors with self-defense training.
Just like many domestic abusers, Ms. Rodriguez-Gregg’s ex-partner was not always abusive toward her. She described her ex-partner as a person who was “well-liked by all and trustworthy.” Accordingly, Ms. Rodriguez-Gregg did not immediately leave or report her ex-partner, although there were red flags in the relationship. When asked if she would do anything differently, Ms. Rodriguez-Gregg responded immediately that she would have reported her ex-partner the first time the abuse happened and left the relationship sooner than she did, “at the end of the day, the goal is to get out of the situation with safety and security. But the longer you stay, the harder it is for you to leave.” And the more likely the victim is to be challenged about her choices and her believability.
For those victims who have the courage to bring a domestic violence claim, it is essential to follow Ms. Rodriguez-Gregg’s advice:
- Domestic abuse survivors should document their abuse if they would like to pursue legal action against their abusers. For example, a journal, text messages, videos, or photos evidencing a domestic abuse survivors’ abuse is helpful. The reality is, like in most cases of violence against women, ‘she said, he said’ is the standard used by the police and by judges. Get your evidence together!
- “Secret” bank accounts are recommended for those who are financially dependent on their abuser.
- A bag of clothes for you and your child should always be packed and ready in the event a domestic abuse survivor needs to leave in an emergency situation. And of course, call 911.
But to those who claim to be victims but really are not, beware! Making up or exaggerating a domestic violence story as a way to gain leverage in a divorce case, an estate dispute, or any other “fight” between family members, or between those in a dating relationship, will not get past a smart judge and a good lawyer on the other side.