[Poverty at Issue]
A Newsletter for Individuals Concerned About Poverty in Missouri

Spring 1999

In this issue:

Sarah's Story

What is Domestic Violence?

Is Someone You Know Being Abused?

Why Does He Hit Her?

What Can You Do to Help?

The Missouri Adult Abuse Act

Issues for Rural Domestic Abuse Victims

Screening Assessment and Referral for Public Benefits Applicants


In this Poverty At Issue, we look at the topic of domestic violence. In Missouri, domestic violence generated 71,941 hotline/crisis calls in 1997. It is well documented that domestic violence occurs at all income levels. Whatever their family’s income level, however, domestic violence victims usually depend on their batterers for their own and their children’s economic survival. Getting out of a violent relationship can lead to a devastating struggle just to meet basic family needs.

Studies show that some 50% of welfare-dependent women are or have been victims of abuse. This Poverty At Issue defines domestic violence, discusses some of the issues faced by its victims, provides highlights of the Missouri Adult Abuse Act, gives tips for recognizing when someone is being abused, offers suggestions for how to help if you suspect abuse, explores some of the unique issues that rural victims face, and includes a story about Sarah (not her real name), who is a survivor of domestic violence. A safety plan is enclosed that may be shared with clients or others who are in danger. Feel free to copy and distribute it.

Fiona Robertson has volunteered for the Poverty At Issue project since November 1997. In July, she will return to her native Scotland to pursue a social work career. She was the driving force behind this particular newsletter. She did all the research and most of the writing. I am grateful for her selfless contribution to our work and the citizens of Missouri. I hope her experience with us has been as beneficial to her as it has to us. We’ll miss her.

As always, I hope you find this information helpful.

Brenda Procter
Consumer and Family Economics Specialist

Sarah's Story

Sarah met Bob in high school. She was 16 years old, and they dated for almost 3 years. It was several months before he hit her. "We got into a fight one time and he slapped me in the face. That was the first time he hit me."

The longer she was with him the worse the abuse got. He was always accusing her of cheating on him, sleeping with other people, putting her down all the time, and making her feel like she was going crazy. He would make nasty remarks to her when there were other people around, but he’d speak softly enough that only she could hear them. He always made sure that he left bruises where no one would see them.

She remembers an incident where they were downtown and he had her in an alleyway, slamming her repeatedly against the wall. A stranger saw what was happening and called the police. The police arrived and asked her if she wanted to press charges. She said no.

They broke up a lot, but she always went back to him. "He would be really mean to me, and hitting me, and then he’d cry and say ‘I’m sorry. I love you. I need help’. He’d want me to stay with him. I always would."

The catalyst for Sarah to get out of her abusive relationship, happened one evening when she was at Bob’s house. He was being verbally abusive to her, had hit her and she was crying. He told her that if she wanted to leave, the only way she could get out was through the window, "like the dog that she was." His roommate was in during this time, and he had come into the room to tell them that he was going out. Something finally snapped in her, and she said, "Don’t leave me here with him, because if you leave he’s going to hurt me." It was the first time she had admitted to any of his friends that he was abusing her. In the ensuing chaos her mother had arrived, she told Sarah to get into the car and she took her home.

She never really thought about the abuse until it was all over. She knew that what he was doing was wrong, but never realized that it was a problem until afterwards when he wouldn’t leave her alone. He would come drive by her house, follow her in his car, and come to her work. It only stopped when he moved out of state.

Ten years later, looking back at her experience, Sarah said, "I can’t believe I let someone treat me like that. A few years ago I came across a whole shoe box filled with letters and cards that he’d sent me. All of them said, ’I’m sorry. I love you, etc.’ He always had something to be sorry for."

For Sarah, the most important lesson that she learned was that the abuse will just keep getting worse. In her case it escalated from that first slap, to punching, slapping, choking, spitting on her, ripping her clothes, and throwing her against the wall. As Sarah says, "Nobody deserves to be treated like that."

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive and coercive behavior, used by adults against their intimate partners or family members. It can include physical, emotional, and sexual assaults, as well as economic coercion. Perpetrators use acts of violence, intimidation, threats, psychological abuse and isolation to establish control and fear in the relationship.

Domestic violence occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and can be perpetrated by both males and females. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 85% of assaults on intimate partners and former intimate partners are committed by men against women. For the purposes of this newsletter we will speak of the male as the perpetrator of domestic violence and the female as the victim, while recognizing that domestic violence also can be perpetrated by women against men, and within same-sex relationships.

In general, domestic violence involves one or more of the following behavior patterns.

Is Someone You Know Being Abused?

Signs to Look For

Why Does He Hit Her?

Those who are not victims of domestic violence often ask, "Why doesn’t she leave?" For Karen Johnson, who works with The Shelter in Columbia, "the fundamental question should not be, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ but ‘Why does he hit her?’" "As long as we ask why she stays, we as a society hold her completely responsible for the violence he perpetrates," says Johnson. Each situation is unique, but battered women report a variety of reasons why they find it so hard to leave.

Low Self-esteem
The victim may feel that she is a failure as a wife, mother or person, because she cannot avoid her partner’s abuse.

Economic Dependence
Victims of domestic violence across socioeconomic groups are usually dependent on their batterers for their own and their children’s economic survival. In one study, 34% of battered women had no access to checking accounts, 51% had no access to charge accounts and 21% had no access to cash.

Emotional Dependence/Isolation
A battering victim is usually quite isolated, having few friends or sources of support. The more isolated she is, the more dependent upon her partner she is for any input for her value as a person or her options in life. She may have no place to go, and be unaware of any community resources.

Promises of Change
She believes her partner when he promises that it won’t happen again. She often still loves him, and wants her relationship or marriage to be a success.

Learned Behavior
Abused women can come to regard abuse as a normal part of a relationship or marriage. Societal attitudes often assume a man’s right to use physical violence against "his" wife or "his" woman. She might have witnessed violence in her own family for years.

Fear of Death
She might be told that he will kill her, her children or himself if she leaves.

What Can You Do to Help?

If you think someone you know is in danger from domestic violence, there is something you can do. According to Karen Johnson, coordinator of volunteer services for Columbia’s The Shelter, if someone you know is a victim of abuse, the best thing you can do for her is to provide her with options. This allows her to start taking control of her own life and making her own decisions.

Options include:

"She may be unable to leave because she’s afraid that he’ll kill her or take the children," says Johnson. "Remember, she knows best what kind of danger she’s in and if you try to tell her what to do and how to do it you’re not helping her."

Try to remain non-judgmental. Let her know that you’re concerned for her safety, and that you’ll be there for her if she needs assistance at a later time. At that point you can help her with safety planning, so that if something does go wrong she has a way out. She may leave and go back to him a number of times. "Remember each time she goes back she has reasons for doing so, and each time she is able to leave again is reason for celebration," Johnson says.

If you want to help in your community, the best way is to contact your local shelter and ask about their volunteer program. If there is no shelter, consider joining with others in the community to start one.

According to Johnson, "The first way to create change in your community is by changing yourself and understanding the way things really are for victims of domestic violence." To learn more, refer to the following resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

The Directory of Domestic Violence Service Providers in Missouri
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence (MCADV)
415 East McCarty
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101
Tel: (573) 634-4161; Fax: (573) 636-3728

Domestic Violence and the Law: A Practical Guide for Survivors
The Missouri Bar
P.O. Box 119
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0119
Tel: (573) 635-4128; Fax: (573) 659-8931
E-mail: mobar@mobar.org

The Missouri Adult Abuse Act

Missouri law has afforded some degree of protection for domestic violence victims since 1980, when the Adult Abuse Act first passed. The Act established civil orders of protection for abuse victims, which legally ordered abusers from their homes if they were an immediate and present danger to their partners. With criminal penalties for violations of an order, it also mandated the arrest of abusers who fail to surrender minor children to the battered spouse when an order of protection awarded temporary custody. It also required law enforcement officers to make the same response to domestic violence crimes as to crimes involving strangers.

Since 1980, the Missouri Adult Abuse Act has undergone some changes. Definitions of adult abuse have been significantly expanded, law enforcement responses strengthened, and criminal penalties increased for domestic violence crimes. For example, repeat domestic violence offenders are required to serve a minimum of six months in prison. An initial filing fee is no longer required to file for an ex parte order of protection.

Stalking has been added as cause for an order of protection. Gender neutral language also allows same-sex couples to obtain orders. Orders of protection are now recognized across state lines, and can be granted for up to 12 months, with two one-year renewal periods, without any subsequent acts of abuse. Ex parte orders of protection can now be obtained after business hours, on holidays and weekends.

Last year, marriage was removed from law as a defense against sexual assault (marital rape). Domestic violence discrimination is now prohibited in insurance coverage. Legislation pending in Missouri will further refine the Adult Abuse Act. For copies of pending bills, contact the House Bill Room at (573) 751-4555 or the Senate Bill Room at (573) 751-2966. Information is available online at: http://www.house.mo.gov/.

Orders of Protection

An ex parte order of protection is an emergency order, which the court grants temporarily after having heard from only one party-the petitioner. The order provides protection while the summons and complaint are being served on the abuser and before the abuser has a chance to come before the judge. The order is good for 15 days, or until there is a full hearing on the matter. In an ex parte order, the Court may order that:

The court will only issue a full order of protection after a full hearing, where the respondent has the right to be present. The full hearing must be set within 15 days of filing the petition. The respondent must be served (notified) at least three days before the hearing. The full order may grant the same relief as the ex parte order, and may also order:

A full order may be granted for six months or one year; the length is up to the judge. The order can be extended or another order obtained if the abuser continues to be a threat to the personal safety of the petitioner. The circuit clerk’s office at the court can provide information on how to extend it. The extension request should be made before the existing order expires.

To get enforcement of either an ex parte or full order of protection, the victim must call the police if the abuser attempts further contact. An ex parte order of protection is valid and enforceable throughout the entire state of Missouri.

It is important to report any violations of the order of protection. The police are obligated to arrest the respondent if there is probable cause to believe he has committed a violation of the order. It also is important to say that a protection order is in effect when calling police, as it may elicit a faster response.

Legal Resources

If the respondent has a lawyer to represent him at the court hearing, it may be advisable for the petitioner to do the same. The judge may ask the petitioner if she would like time to retain a lawyer, but the victim herself has the right to ask the judge for a continuance to give her time to get a lawyer.

Missouri Legal Aid offers services for those who cannot afford legal fees. It is split into six divisions: Mid-Missouri Legal Services (serving 11 counties in Mid-Missouri); Western Missouri Legal Services (Kansas City area, with offices in St. Joseph, Joplin, and Warrensburg); Southwest Missouri Legal Services (Springfield area); Southeast Missouri Legal Services (Bootheel area); Meramec Legal Services (Meramec Valley area); and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (St. Louis area, Hannibal).

Legal Aid serves male and female victims of both physical and mental abuse. They handle orders of protection, divorces, paternity hearings, and sometimes custody hearings. To qualify for free services clients must live in the area whose services they are using, and meet certain income guidelines. Different areas serve clients at different income levels, but most serve those at up to 125% of poverty level. Check the phone book for addresses and numbers in your area.

Your local shelter can often advise you about other legal options in your area. One such option in Mid-Missouri is the Domestic Violence Clinic. Currently serving 19 Mid-Missouri counties, it gives free legal representation to women seeking a full order of protection who are not able to pay for a lawyer themselves (up to 150% of poverty level). As part of the MU Law School, it only operates while the University is in session. Representation is provided by 13 certified law students under the supervision of Mary Beck, director of MU’s Family Violence Clinic.

Issues For Rural Domestic Abuse Victims

Domestic violence knows no geographic boundaries. Battered women living in rural areas have many of the same experiences as battered women everywhere. However, certain experiences and barriers exist that are unique to rural settings.

Lack of transportation, combined with geographical isolation, is a major problem in rural areas. There is usually no public transport system, so for a woman to leave she must have access to the family vehicle. Poor roads and extreme weather add to difficulties. Problems with cold, snow, and mud may extend periods of isolation with an abuser. Police and medical response to a call for help may take a long time. An isolated location may mean that there are no neighbors to hear her scream when she is attacked, and bruises may fade or heal before she sees other people.

Rural areas have fewer resources for women, (e.g., jobs, child care, housing, and health care). Easy access to them is again often limited by distance. It may be a long-distance call to reach the nearest town with a shelter, services, or crisis line. Some victims cannot afford long-distance phone calls and would not want a record of the call which the abuser might see. Traveling to a "big city" for help can be intimidating to some rural women.

There also are issues of privacy in rural areas, where everybody knows everyone else’s business. A woman may decide against filing a police report or taking any other public action because she does not want the residents of her community to know. There can be a tendency to keep problems within the family.

Finances must also be taken into account. Rural women may be an integral part of a family farm business. A farm family’s finances tend to be tied up in land and equipment, and a woman may have little money and few assets of her own to support herself and her children if she leaves.

Options for Rural Abuse Victims

Rural battered women have some unique problems, but alternatives to living with abuse do exist. A battered women’s program can provide personal support, safety planning, information about available options, legal information, safe shelter, and referrals to financial assistance, job training, and education options. A number of shelters have toll-free hotlines.

Harbor Lights in Kimberling City serves Stone and Taney counties. It is a "shelter without walls," providing safe-homes and motel placements for victims of domestic violence. Their toll-free hotline is run through a larger shelter in Springfield, which then connects victims to the Kimberling City office. Despite their rural location they provide child, victim and court advocacy, along with case management and support groups for women.

Cookie Ahillen, Harbor Lights’ program director, identified the lack of transportation as the biggest obstacle that they face as a rural shelter. They have problems in getting victims transportation to permanent shelters. This creates the additional problem of victims maintaining their jobs. "It is difficult to find a victim a safe place to live that is within walking distance of work. The result is that we often have to encourage them to move to bigger cities."

Director Susan Else of Hope House, a 55-bed shelter serving eastern Jackson County says, "In a small town, many services are not open 24 hours per day, seven days a week. It’s not as easy to pull into a public place and ask for help. Urban areas have more resources, but it’s still a very difficult, scary step to leave home and move to a shelter."

Screening Assessment and Referral for Public Benefits Applicants

Efforts are underway to finalize a statewide policy for addressing domestic violence issues within the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Domestic Violence Training Project, soon to be piloted in Jackson County, will provide the model for a statewide screening, assessment and referral process scheduled to go into effect before the end of the year.

The Project will develop a collaborative approach to training through a contract with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence (MCADV).

MCADV will help design and plan the Project, develop materials, present pilot trainings, select domestic violence trainers, present train-the-trainer sessions, oversee and assist with implementing regional trainings, and provide ongoing consultation and technical assistance to the Project.

Eventually, DSS regions of Missouri will create teams to present trainings at the regional level.

Trainings will be presented to combined audiences from Division of Family Services (DFS)/Income Maintenance, DFS/Children’s Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement, and staff from domestic violence programs within the respective regions.

Colleen Coble, executive director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, continues to work on the training project. "I am hopeful that Missouri's domestic violence initiatives, while still remaining to be fully finalized and implemented, will be worth the wait," she says. "No other state but Missouri has expanded the domestic violence screening, assessment and referral approaches to helping TANF recipients to include those families involved with child support enforcement and children's services as well."

"Our comprehensive approach," says Coble, "will allow us to more completely achieve our goal of identifying and assisting all families needing assistance to live their lives free from violence."


Myth 1 - Battered women can always leave.

Fact - A woman is 75% more likely to be murdered when she attempts to leave or has successfully left an abusive relationship, than when she stays.

Myth 2 - Drinking causes battering behavior.

Fact - Many men who batter do not drink heavily and many alcoholics do not beat their wives. Domestic violence is caused by a person choosing to use violence.

Fact - Only 7%-14% of battered women have alcohol abuse problems, the same percentage as is found in the general female population.

Myth 3 - Batterers are violent in all their relationships

Fact - Only 10%-15% of batterers are violent outside the home or relationship.

Myth 4 - Domestic Violence only affects lower-class, minority, uneducated people with few social or job skills and no religious beliefs.

Fact - Violence will occur at least once in two-thirds of all marriages in the United States.

Fact - In Missouri, in 1997, 68% of women who were provided with shelter were Caucasian, 26% were African-American, and 6% came from other ethnic groups. African-Americans make up 10.7% of Missouri’s total population.

Fact - In one study, the education level of women ranged from 5th grade through completion of professional and doctoral degrees.


Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Violence Between Intimates (NCJ-149259), November 1994.

Domestic Violence: A Guide for Health Care Providers, Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Follingstad, D.R. Journal of Family Violence, 5 (107), p.113, 1990.

Hart, Barbara, National Estimates and Facts About Domestic Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Voice, Winter 1989, p. 12, 1989.

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 1997 Service Statistics.

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The Nature and Dynamics of Domestic Violence,1998.

Raphael & Tolman, Trapped by Poverty, Trapped by Abuse: New Evidence Documenting the Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Welfare, 1997.

Walker, Lenore, The Battered Woman Syndrome, New York: MacMillan, 1984.

The Women's Center, A Program of Bridgeway Counseling Services.


Back to Poverty At Issue policy briefs


University Extension does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, status as disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era. For more information call Human Resource Services at (573) 882-4265 or U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.

For ADA accommodations, contact ADA project Director, Jim de Jong, 4816 Santana, Columbia, MO 65203, 1-800-949-4232.

Jeanne Bintzer, HES Extension Site Administrator

Brenda Procter, Consumer and Family Economics Specialist, Content Provider