Understanding Intimate Partner Violence

​Lieutenant Leshaun Oliver of the Vanderbilt University Police Department discusses intimate partner violence as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Lt. Oliver helps us recognize the dynamics of domestic violence and resources available to all who are effected by it.

Begin Transcript

Rosemary Cope: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections. I’m here today with Lieutenant Leshaun Oliver, who works in Community Relations with the Vanderbilt University Police Department. He works extensively on building relationships within the Vanderbilt community. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which evolved from The Day of Unity, held in October of 1981, and conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For survivors of domestic of violence, who may also be wounded both physically and emotionally, the color purple is meant to be a symbol of peace, courage, survival, honor and dedication to ending violence. Many of us think that domestic violence means that someone is being physically abused by their partner. Lieutenant Oliver, can you help explain and expand that definition for our listeners?

Lieutenant Oliver: You talked about domestic violence being something we usually look at as physical abuse, but we have to expand that definition because the way we look at domestic violence, especially from a criminal aspect, when we are trying to determine if a crime is happening, isn’t always necessarily the physical abuse, but it is what a reasonable person believed to be true, and giving an example is if someone uses intimidation as a way to put you in reasonable fear of bodily harm or threat or, or even just threatens bodily harm, that can be criminal, because if a reasonable person believes that a person has the means and the assets to conduct the threat, then they are in fear, and that fear and anxiety causes a lot of psychological abuse, too. But that, to us in law enforcement, would be considered abuse. So, it is not just the physical. Sometimes it is that mental and that psychological aspect of abuse that sometimes we leave out. So, you have to expand that definition to include that whole piece.

Rosemary Cope: Right. I think many people assume that domestic violence can be solved easily if the woman or the man, depending upon who is being abused, will just leave when it happens. What is the real truth about that line of thought?

Lieutenant Oliver: And that is why the first question that you ask is if we can dispell the myth that domestic violence or abuse is only physical, and we can focus then on the psychological aspect of it, we can start to peel it away and understand that it is a little more complicated than that. You can understand that it is a psychological piece that might not be as easy for a person to walk away. I will give you an example – if the person is using their financial means to control, because ultimately abuse, and when we talk about domestic violence, is an issue of control. What if they are using those financial means to control the situation, so now the victim of that situation is dependent totally on them? They have isolated them from family. They have nobody to go to, and they have controlled that person, not only physically, but now financially, and then psychologically they will put them down. It is that mental abuse that makes them think less of themselves than they are, and they are totally dependent on that person. They now basically use the finances and the psychological aspect to control and now this person is thinking, “How can I leave?” That might not be now a viable option. One of the things that we teach in our women’s self-defense class here at Vanderbilt, which is a rape aggression defense class, is what rape aggression is, and a lot of times the definition we use also meets the criteria for domestic violence, because what we say is, “Rape aggression is pretty much defined as any means or act that prevents a person from freely leaving,” and what I mean is – any force of threat against a woman’s will that restricts her freedom to move or desire to leave is considered rape aggression, and that is why you have to look at why it might not be as easy, and those other examples I gave you might fall into that category, because now I can’t freely leave. Now we are talking about rape aggression.

Rosemary Cope: What I am hearing is that just like we mentioned, it is not somebody is getting beat up by their partner; it’s somebody is being controlled by their partner in many areas of their life and they are being isolated and any way that they might have to reach out for help is being controlled by this other person so that they feel hopeless and helpless and discouraged.

Lieutenant Oliver: Yes, ma’am, absolutely.

Rosemary Cope: If a co-worker confides to someone they work with or a manager, or somebody notices that this person I’m working with, there is something wrong there, and they think they are experiencing some intimate partner violence, how can we be helpful to them?

Lieutenant Oliver: First and foremost, if you are in a relationship with an individual and you have that rapport that they confide in you, just listen. That’s the first thing, because the dynamic that is going on in that relationship is one of control, and it is one where if they find they are telling you these things, it is best to listen and see what you can do to help. Ask them. What we teach in our women’s self-defense class at Vanderbilt University Police Department, and we’ve been teaching this class for over 20 years, and we try to help the women in our courses understand too – nothing happens until you are ready for it to happen. To assist, if someone is telling you that “you ought to do, you ought to do,” you once again are telling them as opposed to letting them make that decision of when they are ready. And that is the first step. If we are listening, we want to eventually get them to the point where they are taking control back over their lives and they are making the decision the time is now. Once that happens, they know they have a trusted colleague that is an ally in that situation that will support them in their decision. Now they are making those steps back to recovering their lives and taking control. So, nothing happens until they are ready. As much as we want to assist, it is best if we listen, let them know we are here for them. If there is resources, suggest those resources, but let them ultimately take those steps toward reclaiming their lives and control.

Rosemary Cope: That’s great advice, and if I am listening and would like more information, can you suggest any online or local resources?

Lieutenant Oliver: Yes. If I am an employee or I am someone who is listening that is in the Vanderbilt University community, the first place we could start is EAP, and that is the Employee Assistance Program we have here. They provide you with tons of resources and put you in touch with the experts on those subject matters that can assist you, and that can even mean counseling. Our university is there to support the employee, the student and the staff member in any way. And on top of that, like I alluded to, we here at Vanderbilt University Police Department offer a women’s self-defense class, which is rape aggression defense. The program has been around since 1989 and we have been a member of the program for over 20 years here. We focus in that class on a lot of the strategies, because as you know, self-defense, when we talk about it, 90% of it isn’t even physical. It is being able to apply the strategies that we teach in those classes, and at the end of each course, we provide each student with a manual that has a lot of resources that they can call and get in contact with. But those risk reduction strategies include the risk awareness, risk recognition, risk reduction, and then just being able to remove yourself from those situations, so to empower you. So, that’s another resource here that can be found at police.vanderbilt.edu.

Rosemary Cope: Okay. And if someone wanted to speak with someone here at the VUPD, what number might they call if they wanted to either report or talk to somebody about it might be happening to them?

Lieutenant Oliver: First and foremost, in an emergency situation that needs immediate police assistance, always call 911, but in a non-emergency situation, you can call 615-322-2745. That is 615-322-2745, and you can also find our information on our website at police.vanderbilt.edu.

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