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#MeToo’s light doesn’t shine brightly enough on domestic violence: Daudlin

In part one of a three-part series on domestic violence, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Daudlin offers insights into the current landscape, including the impact of the #MeToo movement on the justice system.

While the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual assault, encouraging victims to come forward and report abuse, it fails to expose the full picture of domestic violence, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Daudlin tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Sexual assault and abuse are very important issues, and while they can certainly reflect a form of domestic violence, they’re really only catching a glint of it in the distance,” she says. "We need a separate movement that truly exposes domestic violence for what it is."

Domestic violence is a multifaceted issue, ingrained in society and normalized in our cultural understanding of domestic relationships, says Daudlin, founder and principal of Daudlin Law.

“From my perspective, the #MeToo movement does a good job illustrating the power imbalance that people in power can exercise over those with less power. In the entertainment industry where the movement began, for example, a producer or director has the balance of power over an actress trying to get a part or advance her career," she says. “But it really doesn’t touch on the campaign of abuse advanced by an abuser — either knowingly or unknowingly.”

The #MeToo hashtag went viral in October 2017 as a way to spread awareness of the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace, as women in the entertainment and media industries shared their stories, says Daudlin, who focuses on assisting clients leaving abusive relationships and marriages.

“The movement has really cast a light on an issue that most people would rather remain in the dark, and supporters of victims of sexual harassment and assault need to continue to doggedly promote education and awareness to effect lasting change — both socially and culturally,” she says.

But while sexual assault is often an element of domestic violence — marital rape, for example — someone who has been a victim of abuse in a long-term relationship may have many more hurdles to overcome, Daudlin explains.

For instance, the abuser may be influenced by the societal and cultural norms of their upbringing, she says.

“They don’t necessarily see anything wrong with what they’re doing,” says Daudlin, whose practice serves many people from multicultural backgrounds.

For example, the person may believe their wife is supposed to be subservient — and it’s important to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that women were not treated as equals in Canadian culture either, Daudlin adds.

"It’s important to remember that this belief is not limited to immigrant communities," she says. "It wasn’t that long ago that women in Canada were not considered persons, and that they continue to fight for equal rights and treatment not only in public, but in the home.

“There’s an element of co-dependence in the abusive relationship that feeds into the cycle of abuse,” she says. “But there is a lack of information and education available to properly explain that co-dependence in the legal system.”

An abuser can be almost as dependent on the victim as the victim is on the abuser, Daudlin says.

“That person is abusive often because they need to feel in control, they need to feel powerful,” she says. “In that respect, they require their victim to be there so they can feel better about themselves.”

Daudlin says the fear of not being believed is real by victims of sexual assault as well as domestic violence.

“However it may be amplified in the realm of domestic violence, from my experience — because of this element of co-dependence — whether it’s a fear of being called crazy or a requirement to co-parent a child,” she says.

Victims often don’t leave relationships because they are threatened with serious consequences, such as harm against their children or financial ruin, and they are often “brainwashed” to believe no one could ever love them again, Daudlin says.

“Mustering the courage to leave an abuser, let alone report an abuse or domestic incident, requires an act of formidable strength,” she says. “It needs its own platform, its own hashtag.”

Courts and lawyers have a greater awareness of domestic violence and the role it plays in separation, divorce and custody issues than they used to, but Daudlin says the legal system needs to move beyond simply screening for abuse in relationships — to look more deeply into how to best handle the evidence of abuse in these cases.

“There is often a history of gaslighting, and allegations of abuse will flow in both directions, which makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for a judge to determine whose story should be believed,” she says.

“If our entire legal system is based on evidence and what can be confirmed, proving domestic violence and whether it’s relevant to a case before the court is very difficult if both parties are saying the other is lying.”

Stay tuned for part two where Daudlin will look at the intersection of criminal and family law as it relates to domestic violence.

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