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For victims, leaving an abusive relationship is often a difficult step, experts say

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 10:14 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Victims of domestic abuse must be emotionally, physically and financially prepared before they can successfully leave a volatile relationship, which is more difficult than it sounds, experts say.

“Fear plays a huge role in not getting out,” said Dawn Dalton, executive director of Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network. “There needs to be a shift in the way domestic violence is viewed so that when someone is a victim, there isn’t as much shame in standing up and saying, ‘I need help.’ ”

Often, victims are viewed as having done something to cause the abuse, she said.

“Really, people get caught in this web of feeling responsible in this way,” Dalton said.

Counselors recommend that the victim develop a safety plan — including provisions for housing, child care and employment — before ending an abusive relationship.

“The more resources women have, so that they can leave and move on and break away, the better,” said April Zeoli, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice. “If a woman has very little money and nowhere to go, moving out can be very difficult and a stumbling block.”

There are also very real dangers.

“The most important time is when she decides to leave … that has got to be done very carefully,” said Diane Bedrosian, executive director of the South Suburban Family Shelter.

She cited another example, closer to Chicago, of an alleged murder after a reported history of domestic abuse. Murder charges have been filed against the live-in boyfriend of Gena Chiodo, 42, who was last seen Oct. 13 at her Calumet City home.

Though Chiodo’s body has not been found, her boyfriend, Donal Clark, 42, was charged with first-degree murder and concealment of homicide, said Calumet City police Chief Edward Gilmore.

There was “considerable evidence” of foul play, Gilmore said. Clark has a record that includes a conviction for domestic battery involving another woman, police said.

Another period that can be fraught with risk is when orders of protection are granted. They can be helpful to victims, Bedrosian said, but not if the alleged offender is suicidal.

“You have to step back and assess how dangerous is the situation,” Bedrosian said. “Is he the kind of person who would obey the law? Does he leave bruises that are hidden or does he leave them on the face? That means he’s not ashamed. Does he have access to a gun?”

Since 2009, an Illinois law named for murder victim Cindy Bischof has allowed authorities to track offenders through a GPS system if they are charged with or convicted of having violated orders of protection.

In Cook County, 593 offenders have worn devices on their ankles that alert probation officers if the offender has entered a zone within 2,500 feet of a prohibited location, said Matthew Sobieski, Cook County’s deputy chief probation officer.

In some cases, the complaining witness may choose to carry a GPS device that also allows them to be alerted when the offender is nearby.

“I think it’s a really good tool,” Sobieski said. “You just have to see it for what it is. … It’s not like there’s a force field around that house that will prevent the person from going there.”

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