In this interview, I sat down with my sister Michelle Egbert during her second year of law school to discuss what’s she’s learning about domestic abuse and her goals of representing victims of domestic abuse.
Matthew: My first question for you, Michelle, is about your experience watching our mother, Cindy, as an attorney practicing law. What was your experience growing up, watching her do that?
Michelle: I think growing up, I didn’t quite know what that meant for mom, because she, for a lot of the time was working from home while hanging out with four kids. And so, I knew that she was in her little office doing things for the law office, but didn’t know a lot about what she did until… I think later in life, she switched fields and began to practice some family law and probate law, and that’s when I really saw her really enjoy it. And maybe it’s because all of her kids were out of the house and she didn’t have to worry about us. That’s when I saw her really enjoy the practice of law. And she’s very much a servant and likes to help people, and those are areas of the law that are really conducive to that.
Matthew: So, you’ve told me a story about that moment when you decided you wanted to pursue law. So, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about that moment.
Michelle Egbert: Yeah. I think about it as there’s three different roads that merged together for me to start this second career. I started out in music and was a music minister for a while and then a stay at home mom. So, the first part of this story is my relationship with a friend of mine. I watched her get married, have three children, and I also watched as the relationship began to deteriorate. My friend’s spouse had managed to isolate her from most people. And advocates of domestic violence will tell you that this is a common tactic of abusers. So, I watched that, but he didn’t manage to get rid of my husband, Scott, and I. So, I was a confidant for her and heard all of the stories, and this began my journey of learning what domestic violence even was. And so, I watched her walk through that.
She did leave and pursued a divorce, then began the custody battle, which was just so frustrating. There were so many legal things she ran into that were so frustrating. So, I was eventually able to connect her with mom. Before she retired, that’s the area of law that she practiced in. So, I was able to connect my friend with my mom. And mom was able to work through those legal issues that were so difficult, and get her from a place of being a victim to a place of being a survivor. So, that was really amazing to watch. And that, because I was friends with mom’s client, I was able to hear about things from her perspective. So, it was a unique insight into what mom did as a lawyer.
So, at the same time, my kids are getting older and I was seeking what I was going to do after being a stay at home mom. I felt like I was the kind of person that needed to work. And so, I was thinking about that and praying about that, what was my future going to be? And right about that time, Dad asked, “Hey, do you want to come work at the law firm?” And at the time, I knew that he was talking about some kind of administrative capacity. I’m very into details and I like to organize things. But this thought just popped into my head, what if you just became a lawyer? And it just snowballed from there, and here I am in law school.
Matthew: I’m really excited to see your future in law. I think your attention to detail, you would be great at administrative things, but I think your attention to detail is going to make you a really excellent lawyer. So, I’m excited to see that. So, in this journey of watching mom represent a friend and as you’ve continued to learn more about the law, what have you learned about domestic violence in that journey?
Michelle: It’s a crazy world. I’ve learned several things. I think foremost, first that it is far more insidious than anybody really thinks. Lots of the community at large thinks of domestic violence as one person hitting another, but it’s a much deeper psychological kind of an event. I’ve learned that anybody can be a victim of domestic violence. It runs the gamut of socioeconomic status, and personality, and all these kinds of things. So, it is everywhere and it’s so common, but it’s so hidden, so much secrecy around it that it’s hard to know. The advocates of domestic violence have done a really good job in the past 30 or so years to bring dynamics of domestic violence to the forefront.
And so, the law in Kansas, has some aspects of the law that are intended to protect victims of domestic violence, but there’s still holes. There’s still considerable holes, particularly in the area of emotional and psychological abuse. An abuser will isolate, like I mentioned before, so that the victim doesn’t have any resources. There’s economic aspects where the victim doesn’t have access to money. There’s just a whole host of things like that, that keep it under the surface, that make it hard to recognize even for judges and for lawyers and for people who are unfamiliar with what’s happening.
And interestingly, one of the things that I’ve learned is that, when a couple who is involved in domestic violence is in a courtroom, an abuser is really good at making himself look… And I say himself, it happens in different gender situations, but just for sake of simplicity, I’ll say that, that is the majority of the cases that usually come about. So, an abuser is good at looking really good in court. And a victim has been psychologically trained, basically to look a little flaky, a little bit traumatized. And in a courtroom that doesn’t look very good if you don’t understand the dynamics of what’s happening under the surface right in front of you.
I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of resources out there. There’s a lot of people who want to help. So, it’s very interesting. It’s a very common problem and I’m just compelled to help victims that find themselves in these situations. So, that’s what’s driven me in law school and something that I hope to accomplish when I’m practicing.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think that’s really awesome. Now, you are also a Christian, so faith plays a big role in your understanding of justice and all of these kinds of things. I am curious, from your perspective, what are some things that is often overlooked in the church in regards to domestic abuse and how can the church do better in that area?
Michelle: Wow, that’s a great question. The church in general, I think has an idea that we want to preserve marriage, and I think that’s a good goal. In a situation of domestic violence, that can go awry. The idea that a victim should just work harder, that we want to preserve the marriage at all costs, that becomes very harmful advice to a woman who is experiencing domestic violence. So, I think being aware as Christian people, as people who are in leadership in the church of different aspects of domestic violence, educating yourself on what that really means, what it looks like. And understanding that one of the common misconceptions of a domestic violence situation is that she should just leave and it would all go away. It’s far more complicated than that.
So, from the church, what a victim needs is just to have someone believe her, to have someone support her through everything that she’s going through, to connect her to different resources that have expertise. Be aware of safety planning. Maybe you can help or connect a person to someone who has experience doing a safety plan. So, I think the first thing would be just to be aware of the dynamics and to know that listening to a victim and understanding where she’s coming from is really the biggest thing that she needs in those moments.
Matthew: That’s awesome. Yeah. And you mentioned that abusers isolate their victims and it seems to me that churches could be of benefit if they are paying attention. And they notice when someone’s being isolated and they can work to try to, if they have their eyes out and their radar up for that kind of activity, they could be in a situation to be a blessing.
Michelle: Absolutely, they absolutely could.
Matthew: So, you’re going to graduate in about a year from law school. So, after you graduate law school, tell me what’s next for you.
Michelle: Well, I hope to join Patton & Patton. I hope to practice family law and probate law. I just want to slip into my mom’s shoes. I have seen some commonalities with mom, so I thought that might be a good place for me to start and practice. I do hope to support victims of domestic in a journey to be free. Also, my detail orientation will help in the whole probate law situation, making wills, establishing trusts for people. That’s very detail oriented work.
Matthew: Awesome. So, my last question for you is, do you have a message for people who might be reading this or watching this, that have struggled with domestic abuse and suffered from domestic abuse?
Michelle: I would say that you’re not alone. I would say that your situation is fraught and there are people that understand what you’ve gone through and can help you safely navigate it. One of the most dangerous times in a victim’s life is when she is trying to leave, so that’s a dynamic to understand. And there are lawyers, there are advocate groups, there are safe homes that can assist you. And so, the biggest thing is you are not alone and you can get free of that situation.
Matthew: That’s awesome. Well, that is a message of hope. Michelle, are there any resources that you can point people to?
Michelle: I’ll send you some resources that you can send out and just help get the word out about those kinds of things.
Michelle: So, there’s a crisis hotline in Kansas, that is 1-888-363-2287. And that’s just a number you can call 24/7 and that number will connect you to a lot of different resources in your area, wherever you are in Kansas. The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence is a really good resource. You can find that at kcsdv.org. Importantly, in a lot of those websites, there’s an escape button. If you are feeling in danger and your abuser walks in the room, there’s an escape button and it’ll kick your right to Google. So, that’s just a built-in safety if you have any fear about that.
Matthew: Well, that’s awesome. We’ll be sure to include those resources. So, Michelle, thanks so much for your time. And again, I’m really, really excited to see you get into the field of law and start kicking butt and taking names.
Michelle Egbert: Thank you so much. I’m excited to.