Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to Help a Victim of Domestic Abuse

The Center for Disease Control reports approximately 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men experience violence at the hand of their partner. We can make a difference by paying attention to the people around us and reaching out. The question most asked is, “How do I know if someone is being abused? If I suspect they are, what do I say to them?” 
The most obvious signs of abuse are broken bones, black eyes, bruises, stitches, etc. Physical abuse. The signs of emotional and sexual abuse are less obvious. Berating, humiliating, threats, mind games, hurting children or pets, rape and other humiliating sexual acts, are all used to  assure the victim complies with the abuser’s demands. There are no visible signs (except in rape situations),  but emotional and sexual abuse, as well as physical violence, leaves bruises on the victim’s spirit. Bruises that can last a lifetime and affect the victim’s future.
Most important, if you witness physical violence call 911.
Here are some other indications of abuse --
Your friend or coworker:
  • Is often late or cancels an engagement with you last minute.
  • Wears long sleeves and turtlenecks in warm seasons.
  • Wears sunglasses indoors.
  • Is often sick for several days or weeks in a row and can’t come to work or see you.
  • Receives frequent calls from her partner every day.
  • Has a partner that shows up unexpectedly at her job or when she is out with you.
  • Is often heard trying to calm or assure her partner over the phone.
  • Never socializes with other co-workers or attends work parties or functions.
  • Is seeing you less and less often. 
Victims are afraid someone will ask what is happening to them. They are also afraid that no one will. 
You can help by being prepared and reaching out to the victim. Find out about the shelter in your area and have the phone number at hand. Take your friend or co-worker aside and tell her you’re concerned for her. You have seen  or heard things that lead you to believe that she is living in a stressful (don’t use the word - abuse) situation. Tell her you care about her and that you feel she deserves to be treated better. Offer her the phone number to the shelter (write it on some innocuous business card or random pamphlet.) Tell her that she can call and talk to someone who is compassionate and will help her think through her options. It doesn’t mean she has to leave her partner or go to the shelter. Shelter personnel will not force her to do anything she’s not ready to do. And neither should you. It takes on average 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Patience and acceptance is paramount. 
Your friend or co-worker may deny everything and make excuses for what you’ve witnessed. In violent relationships secrecy is an rule and breaking that edict means severe consequences for the victim. If she denies anything is happening, don’t argue. Tell her you care about her and if something comes up and she’d like to talk, you’re available. Just plant the seed.
Even if your friend or co-worker denies what is happening, there are still things that you can do. Keep a record on a calendar of any missed days, odd behavior, bruises or injuries you notice. Note where the bruising is on her body and its approximate size. Should she eventually press charges against her abuser, your documentation can help prove this is domestic violence, a pattern of on-going abuse, resulting in a longer sentence for the offender. Otherwise, the court may feel this was a one-time incident and only give the abuser a slap on the hand. 
If she discloses to you that she’s in an stressful or abusive relationship, consider doing some safety planning with her. You can set up a code word that she can use to tell you she needs help, call the police. She can gather important papers and records (i.e. birth certificates, social security card, bank accounts) and keep them in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box, with a friend or trusted relative.  She can keep an extra set of car keys hidden outside the house and a suitcase of clothing and some cash with a friend or relative.  She can let you know where she is going and when she is expected to return so if she doesn’t return, you can contact the police. The shelter in her area can give her more helpful suggestions.
It’s stressful to help a victim of domestic abuse. If you feel overwhelmed, you can contact the shelter in your area  or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800.799.7233.) They will support and guide you as you support the victim. 
Your friend has to do the work to take back her power, you cannot do that for her. All you need to be is someone who loves her and speaks the truth to her -- She deserves to be loved and cherished by the people in her life.