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Sitting just behind a tv show about stalker and serial killer, Joe Goldberg, and the surprise phenomenon South Korean hit, Squid Games, the number three show on Netflix’s top shows is a binge-worthy limited series about a woman fleeing an abusive relationship with her young child and the struggles that come along with it. Maid depicts a true-to-life story about the obstacles abuse victims face when trying to get out.

The story’s main character, Alex, flees from her emotionally abusive boyfriend in the middle of the night, taking with her, her young daughter, Maddy. Throughout the series, we see Alex fight for custody of her daughter, navigate relationships with men who have failed her (from her boyfriend to her father to a handsome, seemingly ‘nice’ guy friend to her mother’s boyfriend) while also dealing with homelessness, and a mother living with severe, untreated mental illness.

Maid Highlights Emotional Abuse as Abuse

While Maid isn’t the first show to tackle the difficult topic of domestic violence, the show has managed to do it in a way that reflects what many survivors face in real life.

In Maid, one of the first obstacles we see Alex face is a lack of injuries. In fact, Alex, herself doesn’t believe that she’s been abused because her child’s father, Sean, never actually put his hands on her.  Often, it’s difficult for women to get help through social services without first admitting to themselves and others that they’ve been abused. If you’ve never heard it before, let us tell you that emotional abuse is abuse. 

In the series, this dichotomy between emotional abuse and physical abuse comes up again when a confident-she’ll-win Alex goes to family court and is completely out of her depth thanks to the legal speak between Sean’s lawyer and the judge. Despite informing the court of the abuse she’s faced, without the physical component of abuse, Alex feels blindsided when (spoiler) she loses custody of her daughter. This scene in particular significantly highlights the importance of at minimum consulting with a lawyer when you make your plan to leave an abuser.

“The show truly captures what we’ve seen abuse survivors experience—especially when there is no physical violence,” board-certified family law attorney Savannah Stroud said. “As attorneys, we often see our clients come in as victims who are being punished for trying to get out of abusive situations. We see anything from losing custody of their children to their abuser in Court to the officers who arrive on scene arresting victims.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

In Maid, we see Alex go through many of the types of abuse that victims suffer including the following:  

  • Isolation. An abuser is able to isolate their victim by limiting their access to activities they enjoy, gainful employment and even contact from friends and family.
  • Restricting access to information. Abusers want total control and want you to rely entirely on them. They may limit access to vehicles, cell phones, emails and anything else that may give their target freedom.
  • Worsening abuse. In the beginning of Maid, we see Sean screaming in Alex’s face and punching the wall above her head. However, later in the show, we see Sean ignore Alex’s wishes and make unnecessary demands of her. It’s an illustration of how easily emotional abuse can escalate from isolated incidents when the abuser is using drugs or alcohol to the abuse happening whenever the abuser sees fit.
  • Manipulation. Abusers will often put their targets on guilt trips, engage in gaslighting and exclusionary practices as a form of ‘punishment’.
  • Financial abuse. Financial constraints may lead abusers to financially exploit survivors.

How do I know I’m being emotionally abused?

Emotional abuse is meant to undermine your self-worth. The abuse is mean-spirited and never-ending. Examples of emotional abuse include the following:

  • Humiliation by calling you names, dismissing something that is important to you, insults to your appearance, or embarrassing you in public.
  • Control through threats, monitoring your whereabouts, keeping bank accounts only in their name that you have no access to, or direct order to get you to do what they want such as “stop taking the pill” to “sit down for dinner right now.”
  • Shame by telling embarrassing stories about you to friends or family, calling you names in public, or walking out on you in a social setting.
  • Accusations such as cheating or flirting.
  • Blame you for their problems.
  • Denial of their abuse, say you have no sense of humor when you don’t find their personal attacks on you funny, or they may deny that they destroyed your cell phone screen or didn’t take your car keys.
  • Emotional neglect can be through ignoring attempts at conversation, dehumanizing you, indifference when they see you hurt or crying, disputing your feelings, and withholding affection.
  • Isolation, as noted above, is one of the first things an abuser does is make you completely reliant upon them. They may stop you from going out, come in between you and family or actively work to turn people against you.

Children can suffer from emotional abuse too

Abuse isn’t always physical. Children and adults can experience the same type of abuse including, neglect, sexual and emotional abuse. Regardless of the type of abuse inflicted, the damage remains the same. In Maid, we see Alex alienated from her daughter through Sean’s mother. Survivors forced to co-parent with their abusers may still face amplified abusive behaviors. Abusers often hurt their children by denying the other parent parenting time with their children, parental alienation and retaliation against an ex-spouse through abuse of their shared children.

How do I leave a violent situation in a way that protects my children?

The first step to getting out of an abusive relationship is recognizing the signs that you’re being abused. We want you to know that if you are part of that group of people who have been isolated by an abusive family member, we understand now may be one of the hardest trials you have ever endured. There is help, and we are willing to help in any way we can. But first, let’s talk about options:

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. 

If you are being physically harmed, call the police immediately. When a victim has physical, visible, injuries the police will arrest the person who caused you the injury. They will likely also ask you if you need or want a protective order. If you fear the abuser may come back and do more harm when they bond out of jail, then absolutely seek that protective order.

Start planning

Even if you don’t have currently visible injuries or the abuse you suffer does not leave physical injuries, there is help available. You need to know that there are shelters (for both men and women) and they accept children along with the parent. There are resources in the community that can help.

You can also help yourself by starting to reach out to family and friends with whom you have lost contact. Take a walk and call a friend. Take a walk and call a family member. Reach out, even if you haven’t spoken in years. Your family and friends likely already know why you have isolated away from them. They are also likely to be relieved to hear from you and are also likely to be able and willing to help.

Sort out the small details for yourself (and your children)

With the current situation, it will be difficult to come up with a solution on the fly. Having a plan in place can take control back from your abuser and empower you. When you leave, you want to come up with the safest plan possible. Your plan may include staying with a friend or family member that your abuser doesn’t know, turning all location services off on your phone, or getting a new phone altogether. Whatever you decide, make sure you stick to it and follow through.

Open a checking or savings account of your own, even if you only put $10.00 in it for now.

While many banks are operating under restrictive guidelines, you can still open a bank account over the phone or online. Add money as you are able, but make sure that you are as discreet with the new account as possible. Opt for online banking with email statements instead of mailed, and make sure your income is deposited into the account your abuser cannot access. 

Start considering alternative housing options

While many shelters are closing their doors during the pandemic, you can still explore your alternative housing options to get out of an abusive situation. Reach out to a family member or friend and explain your situation. Take the necessary precautions for your health and safety to move out. Once you’re ready to leave, it’s important that you make a quick exit. Choose a discreet, but easily accessible place in your home to store the urgent items you’ll need when you leave. 

Seek counseling

Many therapists are offering counseling via phone or video conference these days. Set up an appointment, take a walk, and call a therapist.

Seek legal counsel

Experienced family law attorneys can help in a variety of ways:

  • Come up with a plan of action unique to your situation;
  • File a request for a temporary restraining order and temporary order to address who is going to live where, who is going to pay what bills, and who is going to get possession of the children (and when)
  • File a request for a protective order which would make it a crime for the abuser to come near you, your home, or your work; and
  • Help connect you with other resources in your local community to assist you in leaving a dangerous situation.

We understand that taking these steps can feel overwhelming and scary, but experienced family law attorneys are available to help you come up with a plan and execute it.

With Carlson, you’re never alone.

In Maid, we see everyone in Alex’s life dismissive of her abuse because it isn’t physical. Even her mother who left Alex’s abusive father views Sean as a good man because he kept a roof over her head and never put his hands on Alex. If there’s one lesson to take away from the show, it’s that if you suspect that someone is experiencing any form of domestic violence, you should speak up. You might think that you may be wrong. You might think that it’s none of your business or that they might not want to talk about it. However, expressing concern will let the person know that you care. You will signal to them that when they are ready to leave, that you’ll be there to help. And above all else, you may even save their life.

The Carlson Law Firm handles family law cases in Bastrop, Bell, Burnett, Coryell, Hays, Lampasas, Travis, and Williamson counties. Our attorneys will advocate for you every step of the way. Contact The Carlson Law Firm for a free discreet consultation today.

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