What It's Like To Co-Parent With Your Abuser

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and Refinery29 has partnered with Safe Horizon to bring our readers real stories from domestic violence advocates and survivors. Here, a survivor tells us what it's like to co-parent with her abusive ex.

Johane, a 44-year-old social worker, met her ex in 2002, and the two were married in 2007. Two years later, they had a daughter, and three years after that, they separated. Johane is also one of more than 10 million people affected by partner violence every year in the U.S.

But despite the fact that she made the decision to leave her abuser, she must still share parenting responsibilities with him. We talked to her about the process of seeking help and the challenges of co-parenting with her ex.

What made you decide to separate?
"[There] was infidelity on his part, so we had to move out of our apartment. We had been separated from February to July, however there was one physical incident that happened to me in August of 2013 that really put the nail in it for me.

"He wanted to have a conversation about [shopping for] our daughter. Earlier in the day, I said, 'I’m not interested; if you want to do something, we’ll do it another time. I don’t want to talk to you.'

"[Later, at night,] when I was coming out of the gym with my cousin, [he was there, and] I was struck on the left side of my face. I was saying I didn’t want him to come near me — I felt intimidated, and he was coming and just talking to me. So I called the police, and I was hit with the phone. After that, he was running after me, and I went to the side door of the gym, but the gym was about to close. He hit me again and my face started to swell up."

At what point did you decide to go to Safe Horizon?
"I called the police to make a report that my ex had assaulted me on the street. Shortly after that, I also called the 800 number [800-621-HOPE, operated by Safe Horizon in NYC]. [In my job as a social worker, I had used the] number to call for other survivors. This time, I called to find out how Safe Horizon could help me.

I knew I wasn’t alone, which is what was important to me when I made that call.

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"When I called and got someone on the phone, it was very comforting just hearing them ask 'Are you okay? Do you need any help?' because I knew that I would have to go to the police, file the report, and then go to court... But I knew I wasn’t alone, which is what was important to me when I made that call."

How did your current co-parenting situation come about?
"My husband went to court for visitation. He had every right to, even though he had struck me. He was granted some type of visitation, and it was unsupervised at first. Because he was the father, he had as much right as I did to our child. At some point, my parents and his mother decided it would be best for me to drop my daughter off at his mother's house and have him come see her [and pick her up] at my parents' house."

Because he was the father, he had as much right as I did to our child.

What is it like to have to continue to interact with your abuser?
"I do have an order of protection, which states that he is not to come to my job...he is not to do so many things. However, when we go to family court, we have to put [everything] from the criminal court case aside... He’s able to call and be in touch with you as long as it has to do with the child.

"For example, my phone is open to my daughter because she wants to text her daddy; they communicate that way. And he sends her pictures of where he is. [But] what he does is, instead of saying ‘I would like to speak to your mom,’ he says, ‘Put your mother on the phone!’ And I don’t get on the phone. I just don't deal with that. I get very upset and very frustrated."

How does your daughter feel about your ex?
"I don't say anything negative about him to her. If anything, I try to be positive. And if she wants to write to him or...Facetime with him, I encourage her to talk him... It’s hard.

When we go to family court, we have to put [everything] from the criminal court case aside.

"Perfect example: Last night, she sent a text that said ‘I miss you Daddy’ because she had looked at a couple of pictures that he had sent. All of a sudden, she sat on the bed and she started crying. I said ‘What happened?’ And she’s like, ‘I miss Daddy. Don’t you miss Daddy, Mommy?’ Then, of course, I ask...if she wanted to call him. She [says] yes, so I dial...the number, but no one answers. She leaves a message.

"Maybe two hours later, he calls, and she [is] already asleep. [I get her on the phone], but the call [is] very brief, and that’s the frustration: Two hours ago, when she was missing him, he wasn’t available to pick up the phone. But now that he has the time, I shouldn’t have to wake her up."
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How do your own experiences influence your work with other survivors?
"I volunteer a lot of my time to do this work. I am such a big fan of Safe Horizon, and I really love their #PutTheNailInIt campaign because, to me, it’s a way of having a new conversation. You’re not seeing a bruised face or someone with their head down because they’re being battered — this is not the face of domestic violence. This campaign [allows everyone] to talk about domestic violence and not be ashamed.

"I talk about it every chance I get. When I get a manicure, my ring finger on my left hand is always painted purple, so I get to talk about it... Even my daughter — she painted her left hand purple and her right hand pink. She says one is for domestic violence [awareness] and the other one is for [breast] cancer [awareness]. Starting a conversation is a great thing."

Safe Horizon’s #PutTheNailinIt campaign asks men and women to support victims of abuse and take a stand against domestic violence. Join the campaign by donating at safehorizon.org; then, paint your left ring fingernail purple — use the hashtag #PutTheNailinIt to show your vow to end domestic violence.
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