Coordinator in victim unit knows abuse Once battered, she now counsels women on domestic violence

'You can't stand for it'

Education is key to breaking cycle, 23-year-old says

December 01, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

When it comes to assisting victims of spousal abuse, Latisha "Tish" Mayne, the county's new case coordinator for family violence, has experience well beyond her 23 years.

Mayne understands why battered women try to convince themselves that an abusive partner will change. She understands why a victim believes a spouse acts the way he does because of something she has said or done.

Mayne has been there. She was 16 and pregnant when the first punch landed.

"To escape, you've got to call police and hold the abuser accountable," she said. "I advise women to use the criminal justice system. Family violence spousal abuse is against the law. You can't stand for it."

Mayne, a member of the Victim Witness Assistance Unit in the state's attorney's office, had a dozen clients in October, her first month on the job. She had 20 new cases in November.

"Education -- learning how to break the cycle of abuse -- is an important aspect of what I do," she said.

Mayne worked in social service jobs while pursuing a degree at the University of Maryland Baltimore County before accepting her current position.

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said he is fortunate to have Mayne on his staff.

"Her educational background appropriately matched the job description, and she comes with great work experience that will be very helpful to her," he said. "But, more important, it is rare that you find a resource person who has lived through the situation of domestic violence as she has."

As case coordinator for family violence, Mayne investigates victims and defendants, trying to ascertain how long abuse has occurred and whether it affects other family members, particularly children.

"I may pass on information to the county's CASA [Children's Abuse and Sexual Assault] unit if children are involved as victims," she said.

A letter informing a victim of available services is sent. An invitation to come in and talk is extended. It is the same method used by Mayne's predecessor, Donna Smith.

Mayne never tells anyone to leave a boyfriend or divorce a husband. She makes clear her office's "no-drop" policy: Once charges are filed, a state prosecutor takes over and will not dismiss the case.

Mayne encourages clients to take control of their lives by calling police. Ninety-eight percent of battered spouses are women, she said.

Some victims press charges and then try to back out of testifying when the case comes to trial, Mayne said. A victim will call and say, "You don't understand -- I overreacted," or "I didn't really want him arrested."

Mayne lets her clients know she understands the cycle of family violence.

The cycle often begins as verbal abuse, with arguing, tension and the victim feeling as if she is walking on eggshells, she said. Then comes the actual battering, often a very brief act immediately followed by the honeymoon phase.

"A push becomes a slap, then a punch and perhaps a choke," she said.

"The abuser often is instantly remorseful and the battered spouse hears, 'I'm sorry. I'll never do it again.' "

That's when the flowers, candy and teddy bears start coming.

"The honeymoon is an attempt to manipulate the victim, because there is a real fear that the battered spouse may leave," she said.

And the cycle begins again, as the battered woman begins to believe the abuser has truly changed. Eventually, the abuse reaches a point where the remorse never comes, she said.

Mayne can lend support if the victim wants to escape. She said some battered women are ready to take the necessary steps to break the cycle and others are not.

If a woman rejects help, Mayne assures her that help is available when she is ready to accept it. Mayne doesn't take the rejection personally.

"I know I cannot change the victim, no matter how much education I can give her, just as she cannot change the abuser," she explained.

But calling police and filing charges often serve as a wake-up call to an abusive spouse.

Mayne can never forget her past. It took a fractured skull, much counseling and hard work for her to call police and escape the abusive relationship, but she succeeded. Since then, she has worked in internships, including two years with the state's attorney's family violence unit, and stints with the foster care division of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services; the Shoemaker House, a Sykesville center for addiction treatment; and Family and Children's Services of Carroll County.

After graduation from UMBC in May, Mayne worked as a crisis social worker in the domestic violence program at Family and Children's Services of Carroll County. She was hired for her current post in October, a month after she married. She lives with her husband and 6-year-old son in Westminster.

Mayne doesn't foresee her career straying from the issues of family violence.

"With my education and experience, I know I can help others avoid being victims," she said.

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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