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You Are More Than Just A Victim

I have lived on all of the continents—the only exception being Antarctica. I have immersed myself in contrasting cultures, unique cuisines, and elaborate adventures. I have been chased by a rhino in Tanzania, jumped onto a moving train in Sri Lanka, and went rappelling down a waterfall in Belize. I have also witnessed extreme poverty, post-trauma of torture victims, and bureaucratic corruption. I have lived in countries that were divided by decades long civil war, countries fearing repetition of mass murders in post-election violence, countries that face constant fear of cartel drug violence. With each country that I have lived in, I have gained new experiences and insight into complicated legal systems and post-colonial legacies. What has been a constant experience, unfortunately—is gender-based violence.

In each country that I have lived, gender-based violence has been prevalent. In times of crisis, women are used as a weapon through physical and sexual violence. In past positions, I have focused on gender-sensitive transitional justice mechanisms. This refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented in post-conflict states to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.

While transitional justice mechanisms develop their legitimacy from their image of acting as moral actors, victims of human rights offenses develop their legitimacy from their vulnerability. Accountability institutions implicitly encourage women to assume a victim identity, in order to be acknowledged and receive reparations. As a result, women are often portrayed as passive victims and merely an audience to the actions provided by the transitional justice mechanisms. This elementary binary depiction of women as victims and men as the aggressors is a result of the patriarchal paradigm that continues to deprive women of their agency. This prohibition of women as agents of change creates a male heroism complex that fosters a “damsel in distress” mentality and feeds into the stereotypes of women as perpetual victims.

While working at The Manely Firm, I have several cases that focus on domestic violence that have occurred on both a domestic and an international platform. My clients have not only faced physical harm by their abuser, but also psychological harm that manifests itself in several ways. Abusers control their victims through financial control, alienating their victims from a support system, and constant belittling of the victim. This leaves the woman feeling isolated, helpless, and insecure. This is an intentional strategy by the abuser to decrease the victim’s ability to leave the toxic relationship.

This inability to leave is only further multiplied by the current legal system that is both confusing and intimidating for domestic violence victims. As your attorney, I not only have the experience to understand the complexities of your situation, I also have the legal knowledge that will guide you through the process of divorce and protection orders to begin your new life. A life that does not involve violence or shame.

In extracting yourself from an abusive relationship, you will no longer only be considered a victim, but rather an active participant in creating a life that you can proudly claim as your own.

Alisha Esselstein

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