Carol couldn't hold a job. She couldn't balance the checkbook. She couldn't choose worthwhile friends or take care of bills or select furniture. Decisions were made by someone "smarter."

She didn't try to do these things. She knew she couldn't.She knew, because her husband told her so.

"Under the guise of love and family, we have condoned a lot of violence and abuse, physical and emotional," said Debra Daniels, of the YWCA Women in Jeopardy Program.

Daniels spoke about how women lose their rights in an abusive relationship and how to getthem back, during a Noontime Network at the YWCA Thursday.

"A lot of women start believing they have fewer rights than men - or no rights. When they feel vulnerable in an abusive situation, they don't have perspective on where to start to assert those rights."

The legal system further abuses victims of domestic violence, Daniels said. "Women who have been in abusive situations are very much intimidated by the system. They feel they don't have rights or they are asking for more than they should when all they are seeking is protection."

An attorney general's opinion complicated the question for some law enforcement jurisdictions, according to Daniels. Last year, the Legislature adopted a package of domestic-violence bills to provide protection to the abused person (generally the woman). It questioned the constitutionality of HB54, which provided a no-contact period.

"When law enforcement and prosecutors saw the statement from the attorney general's office, it cast a dark cloud. Some interpreted it to mean the whole package was flawed," she said. "It's very subjective as to where and when new domestic-violence laws are enforced. Some jurisdictions make an effort to train and encourage officers to do the right thing, and they have reaped benefits."

Daniels called West Valley City the "model jurisdiction" for dealing with spouse abuse. Riverdale and Sandy police departments have also taken a "clear stand" to remedy problems and educate police.

Education is also crucial for a woman to change her life.

"In our classes and support groups, we focus on giving people information about their rights. When they're in an abusive situation, they are still assuming blame for what happened. When they talk to others, they see that's not how all relationships are, and they begin to feel a sense of power."

Abused women often must learn to be comfortable with independence, she said. "Sometimes the (abuse) process is so slow, subtle, that by the time she realizes how dysfunctional the relationship is, her sense of self is washed away. Most abuse starts psychologically, isolating the woman and making her feel dependent. Money, everything is controlled. By the time she begins to question that, fear has already set in."

Shelter staff first tries to affirm the woman; to agree that this is difficult, but there are things she can do. Then they connect her with a support group.

About 500 women a year stay in the shelter. Thousands come to support groups or ask for information. Abuse cuts across economic, racial, social, cultural and religious lines.

Today, Carol is doing things she was told she was too stupid to do. She's beginning to believe that she will make it. She can win, she said, now that she has gotten off the road to abuse and despair and is firmly on the road to recovery.

That road, she said, is always there - if women will only choose it.


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Warning signs

Debra Daniels, YWCA Women in Jeopardy Program, said a woman should be cautious if her partner:

- Tries to control her activities, money and friends.

- Has impulsive explosions over nothing.

- Shows extreme or irrational jealousies.

- Threatens violence or is preoccupied with weapons.

- Engages in "play" that hurts, physically or emotionally.

- Frequently says hurtful things.