?I feel I?m a full survivor?

? Victim advocate sees many women who face ?victim blaming,? the idea that victims have control over what they experience.

Teresa Loffer, victim advocate for sexual abuse and domestic violence in Marion County, meets as needed with ?Joanne? (foreground), who said she?s found the support she?s needed to work through the abuse she?s experienced since a child. Aleen Ratzlaff / Free Press
Teresa Loffer, victim advocate for sexual abuse and domestic violence in Marion County, meets as needed with ?Joanne? (foreground), who said she?s found the support she?s needed to work through the abuse she?s experienced since a child. Aleen Ratzlaff / Free Press

?Joanne,? not her real name, has lived with emotional and physical abuse since she was 6 years old. Now at age 38, this mother of two wants others to hear her story.

?Because I know if I can do it, considering a lot of the obstacles?I should not be alive to this day?there should be no reason that anybody else can?t,? said Joanne, who lives in Marion County.

Joanne said she has found needed support through the Sexual Assault /Domestic Violence Center.

?I feel I?m a full survivor,? she said, and gave a lot of credit for surviving to Teresa Loffer, the SA/DV victim advocate in Marion County, and a best friend in Wichita, whom she met at a crisis center in Emporia.

Two year ago, Joanne said, she was referred to Loffer, who has helped her work through the long-term abuse experienced as a child and an adult.

Joanne?s story involves growing up in a tumultuous family, living with an alcoholic abuser and battling mental illness, which has involved being hospitalized and medicated.

?I?felt like I could never do anything good enough,? she said. ?And it?s like because I have certain (mental) disorders, I was scared to leave because it?s not that I didn?t know any better, but I?knew I deserved better. But I was scared.?

A decade ago, Joanne lost custody of her daughter and son when they were 5 and 3.

?I tried for 10 years to get my daughter back because of all the lies and (my) mental breakdown,? she said. ?My dad passed away. Because the state and everybody wanted to listen to lies and stuff like that, I lost my kids. I just felt like I was hopeless.?

Common feelings

Loffer said Joanne?s feelings of hopelessness are common for those who have experienced abuse.

?This is indicative of what we see, feeling like the system was abusive to her,? she said.

The first thing Loffer did was find ways to help stabilize Joanne?s feelings of hopelessness, she said, and it often meant bringing her through ?the next 15-minutes of a crisis.?

Together they worked on setting goals.

?Goal setting was very important,? Loffer said

And, Joanne said, she had to learn how to trust.

Last month Dickinson County Court in Abilene awarded Joanne full legal custody of her now 15-year-old daughter.

Joanne said while she used to be scared of her daughter?s dad, she?s not anymore.

?He knew he was done for because the state was finally listening to what I was saying,? she said about the June 16 court ruling.

At the hearing, Joanne provided documentation verifying her daughter had been living in an abusive situation with her father.

?I had it gathered in my head but it had to be in paper,? she said. ?They couldn?t just go by what I was saying.?

Part of the goal-setting process involved Loffer teaching Joanne how to gather information to support her case.

?She was gathering the evidence she needed to prove (the abuse) was really happening,? Loffer said.

Joanne said she will continue to focus on getting custody of her son.

Victim blaming

Loffer said she sees many who face ?victim blaming,? the idea that victims have control over what they experience.

?The big thing you hear about domestic violence is why doesn?t (the victim) leave, and that is such is such a victim-blaming statement,? she said. ?Because if you understand how abusers choose victims, they really have lost the power.

?Sometimes victims don?t have the will or the ability to leave,? she added. ?It feels safer to stay, and that might be a lifesaving decision for them.?

Loffer said everyone makes choices daily to walk out of the door or go to the grocery store to meet someone.

?Just because (a woman) gets involved with a person who ends up being an abuser doesn?t mean she did anything wrong,? she said.

Like Joanne, many caught in domestic violence face situations beyond their choosing.

?By circumstance, Joanne?s abusers were her parents and her daughter?s father,? Loffer said. ?Both of them ended up with custody of the children, and continued to abuse her through the children.

?That?s what abuse is?they use children as leverage,? she added.

Plus, social welfare and court systems as well as people?s assumptions can add to difficulties faced by victims caught in abuse.

?Instead of seeing Joanne as someone who needs help working through a trauma, they?ve been punitive with her,? Loffer said. ?Once we start working on those things, she becomes more stable, making better choices.?

Advocate role

As a victim advocate, Loffer provides crisis intervention for those who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence. Victims can call 620-241-6615, which is her McPherson office, or use the 24/7 crisis hotline at 620-663-2522 or 1-800-701-3630.

?We offer face-to-face or victim-led services that they need,? Loffer said. ?If we can?t meet those needs, we try to find a place that will.?

Loffer said she can go to court with them or provide a ride if needed.

?We don?t tell a victim what to do,? she said, ?My job is to impart what I know, but she makes the decision, whether or not I agree with it.?

Since assuming her role two years ago, Loffer said she?s found that Marion County is doing a good job investigating and taking care of child sexual abuse.

?But in the majority of adult cases,? Loffer said, ?they aren?t seeing the inside of a courtroom. We don?t have child abusers without the other.

?I think it starts with education on victim blaming.?