Program gives participants a glimpse into domestic-violence victims’ lives

by Jessie Halladay, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) — originally published October 29, 2010

Ashley Rigsby, an intern at Family Scholar House, knows domestic-violence victims face difficult choices, but during a training session on Thursday, she got a first-hand taste as she took on the persona of 32-year-old Danielle Lutton.

The training, called “In Her Shoes,” asks participants to follow the life of a real victim and make choices they face. In Rigsby’s case, she followed Danielle’s story as she sought custody of her daughter in court, sought counseling from clergy and eventually ended up living with her mother and seeking therapy.

Participants in the training, hosted by the Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinating Council, drew cards to find out their victim’s story — a woman with kids or a single person in a troubled relationship. They then followed the story to stations set up around the room that represented various options for victims, such as court, police, family and friends, the clergy, support groups or the funeral home.

Participants were often asked to choose between two scenarios for their victim.

“It was confusing to know what to do,” Rigsby said. “There are so many options, and it’s hard to know what’s right. It certainly gives you a better understanding of some of the mental processes (victims) have to go through.”

“The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts bought the training program in 2009 and has been running it at the request of judges and circuit court clerks across the state, as well as going into schools,” said judicial branch educator Brit Linstrom, who facilitates the training.

“It’s very effective,” she said.

Many of the people participating in the program have some experience working with domestic-violence victims. But the exercise of trying to think as a victim would when making decisions was helpful, many said.

Carol Cobb, co-chair of the council, spent many years in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office prosecuting cases that sometimes involved domestic-violence victims. Despite all that experience, she said as she made choices in her simulation, she didn’t foresee the end result of her persona — dying at the hands of her abuser.

“The steps reminded me of many women I’ve worked with,” Cobb said, adding that the training provides valuable insight into the thinking of victims who are trying to end the abuse.

The training “helps you understand how difficult each decision is,” she said.

Chris Locke, who works for the United Way, said he was impressed by the training because it was realistic and gave a good glimpse into the thought processes of victims of all types.

“In that moment you pick the best thing you think you should do,” Locke said. “In some cases, it’s the decision between two tough choices.”

Reporter Jessie Halladay can be reached at (502) 582-4081.

Another story about the In Her Shoes is available at