Special Reports

'In Her Shoes' project sheds light on abuse by partners

When a woman is killed by her abusive husband, the most common question people ask is, "Why didn't she leave him?"

Experts say that is the case when women are abused by husbands or boyfriends, when men are abused by women and when people are in abusive same-sex relationships.

This month, friends and acquaintances can find out what victims go through by experiencing their problems themselves.

It's a program called "In Her Shoes." It takes only an hour or two, and it will be offered free several times this month as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The month is particularly significant in Tacoma this year because Crystal Brame alleged her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, abused her for years before he killed her and himself.

"In Her Shoes" will be held at the YWCA of Pierce County and at Green River Community College.

Participants start by picking a card that describes the role he or she will play.

"The card has on it a real-life situation of someone who's in a domestic violence situation," said Marsha Medgard, coordinator of women's programs at Green River Community College. "It says, say, you've just been beat up by your husband. You choose where to go. Do you go to a friend, do you go to a hospital, do you go to a family member? Do you go to the police?"

If the participant chooses, for example, to tell a family member about the beating, he or she goes to a table labeled "family member" and picks up another card that says how the family member responds. Often, the family member tells the victim to try to strengthen her marriage - and the card instructs the victim to return to her husband.

All the scenarios in the exercise are based on true stories, said Tyra Lindquist of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Lindquist helped create "In Her Shoes" several years ago.

"We held a lot of focus groups and just sat with people and basically wrote down their stories," she said.

The result is a large deck of cards which the coalition has sent to cities all over the United States and to other countries as well. Recently, the coalition sent decks to New Zealand, Guatemala and Japan.

"It's really a cutting-edge sort of tool," Lindquist said. "We're awful proud of it."

Participants find out that it's often incredibly difficult for a victim to leave her abuser.

Often, the woman doesn't have support from her family, from her clergy or from her friends, Lindquist said.

"There's nowhere to go," she said. "Everybody does have a role in helping, and everybody's role does add up to a big impact on a victim."

Even people who work with victims learn from the simulation, said Celia Forrest, director of domestic violence services for the South King County YWCA.

"This simulation shows the depth of decision-making that victims are faced with that you can't see from any other way except from being in her shoes," Forrest said.

Victims have so many decisions to make, and so many places to go, often with children in tow, that often they give up and return to their abuser, she said.

One of the most important parts of the simulation is that people realize that their advice and opinions can have a profound impact on a friend or acquaintance in a difficult relationship.

"People realize, 'Oh, wow, it does make a difference what I say,'" Lindquist said.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658


'In Her Shoes' Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities

•"In Her Shoes," noon-2 p.m., Oct. 15, Green River Community College, Lindbloom Student Center, Glacier Room, 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. For information, call Marsha Medgard, Women's Programs, 253-833-9111, Ext. 2547.

•"In Her Shoes," several sessions, YWCA of Pierce County, 405 Broadway, Tacoma. Please R.S.V.P. to Elaine Nevins, 253-272-4181, Ext. 263. It is OK to come without reservations.


9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 18, Spanish-language version.

1-4:30 p.m. Oct. 18, English-language version.

9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Spanish-language version.

1-4:30 p.m. Oct. 19, English-language version.

•"Domestic Violence Survivors' Day," noon-2 p.m., Wednesday, John L. O'Brien Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia. Speakers will talk about "The Value of Survivors' Voices"; organized by Survivors in Service. For information, call Debra Adams, 360-374-6411.

•"Healing Drums and Candlelight Vigil," 6-8 p.m., Oct. 21, Fireman's Park, Ninth Street and Court A, Tacoma. The YWCA and Puyallup Tribe of Indians will remember the lives of victims of domestic violence and honor the people who support them. For information, call Vazaskia Caldwell, YWCA, 253-272-4181, Ext. 256.