WLSO 2017 Summer Scholars: Sally Harper

“So you’re saying he didn’t put his hands on you? You’re saying all five of your police reports were made up?” Jurors sat with eyes fixed on the stand as a mother and wife recanted all of the allegations of domestic abuse between she and her husband. She recanted her stories despite police record of physical trauma. She recanted despite knowing that her new denial would mean her parental rights would be terminated. Unfortunately, this was a frequent reality during my experience this summer.

This summer I had the opportunity to work in the District Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma City in the Juvenile Division. This division is divided into two dockets–a deprived docket and a delinquent docket. The deprived docket focuses on equipping biological parents with the skills and help needed to reunite them with their children after DHS was forced to step in. The delinquent docket focuses on rehabilitating troubled youth to attempt to break the cycle of recidivism. It was in the deprived docket that my eyes were opened to the stark reality of domestic violence in the community I have spent my entire life apart of. I was unaware that so many women were stuck in abusive relationships and unaware of the lack of resources to truly rectify the problem.

When a child is forced into DHS custody, the parents are given an Individualized Service Plan that is tailored to their specific needs. This plan is nicknamed the parent’s “Roadmap” to get their kids back. These plans contain services for substance abuse, classes for parenting skills, drug testing, and an array of other services depending on the parent’s needs. Most common for mothers were requirements to participate in a victim’s intervention program. Specifically for domestically violent relationships, this program focused on helping women realize there was a problem in their relationship and equipped women with skills to safeguard themselves as well as their children from future domestic violence. These classes attempt to break the cycle of domestic violence by teaching the women that domestic violence is not only not necessary in a relationship but also to show women the traumatizing effect staying in such a relationship has not only on them but also on their children. It took two weeks for me to realize that while these services sound helpful, domestic violence is greatly cyclical and incredibly deep rooted. Sons of abusers are likely to abuse and daughters of abusers or of the abused are likely to allow that behavior in their later relationships. This further impacts the children of domestically violent relationships, which not surprisingly directly coincides with children who then appear in the delinquent docket. Such longstanding abuse and trauma is not easily rectified by even a year long victim’s course. My experience in the Juvenile Division solidified my desire to work in a similar field to encourage the earliest intervention possible to attempt to break the longstanding cycles that have multi-generational impacts. Despite the discouraging reality that domestic violence has a multifaceted impact on the women in my community, more can be done to break these cycles and this experience only reinforces my desire to play my part to make sure that happens.

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