By Kristi Rendahl
Kristi Rendahl is a Minnesota-based writer and blogger.
It was a shocking headline: "Law protecting domestic abuse victims challenged in state Supreme Court." The law is the domestic abuse no-contact order, also known as the DANCO. And the court is the Minnesota Supreme Court.
A husband who admitted hitting his wife has challenged the constitutionality of a judge's order that he have no contact with her. He argues that he should have been able to respond to the charges against him before the no-contact order was imposed.
Is there something about domestic violence that people don't understand? Orders for protection exist for a reason: because abuse creates a situation so convoluted and so terrifying that the victim can't make changes without enormous effort. And she certainly can't make changes without the basic protection of a no-contact order that says, quite simply, "Stay away from me."
Most people would agree that it's difficult to change your life under normal circumstances. Imagine having to do so while trying to flee an abuser. Your life is chaos. You need to take legal action — if you can afford an attorney. You need to move to somewhere the abuser can't find you. You need to tell your family and friends that your life took a bad turn and that you need their help.
You need to keep paying your bills so the cell phone company doesn't cut off your service. If you have a cell phone, that is. You need to buy furniture for the place you found to live. You need to keep your job, where the abuser knows you'll be, because you can't afford the lawyer or the place or the cell phone or the furniture if you don't.
The abuser thinks he is beyond the law, so you live a life of hyper-vigilance, wondering whether or when or how he will continue to create fear in your life. You might be living alone or with children. You realize that if just one of the moving parts breaks, you may lose everything.
And the kicker is that, as you scramble to regain some control of your life, you mourn the loss of what you believed was love. You vacillate between anger, fear and pity toward this person you trusted with your life and heart.
Change is hard, but for some it's harder, and people in this situation need our help and the full force of our mandate to protect them. Because when we talk about laws, we're talking about people. We cannot wait until there's a knife in a woman's back before we take action. We cannot leave open the door for abuse of any kind. We need to shut that door, and keep it shut.