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How to help a friend or family member who is living with Domestic Violence.

Seeing someone you love and care for be victimized again and again by the person that should be loving them the most, can be so very frustrating and confusing. I have been that victim and I have had family, friends, and loved ones feel those feelings of frustration and helplessness.

As I look back and think about what their support meant to me and how they helped me. I realize more and more that I could not have survived those difficult times without their help. Leaving safely would have been impossible and healing would have been so much harder without them in my life.

Don't give up on them! My friends and family didn't give up on me and now my life is free of violence and full of more happiness and peace than I could have ever imagined. My children are also thriving!

Here is a list of 5 ways my friends and family gave me support and help during those difficult years:

Be Patient 

Don’t give up on her. The average DV victim leaves 6 times before leaving the last time. Please try to imagine how scary it is to leave. The rage of the abuser is always compounded whenever the victim stands up and is assertive.  The abuser is also a professional manipulator and if his increased anger or threats (such as taking the children from her or ‘destroying’ her in divorce court) doesn’t force her back into the relationship, then tears and threats of suicide, or grandiose promises of change accompanied by false remorse, might influence her to return to him. When she does return to him, assure her of your friendship and don’t give up on her. Acknowledge her efforts to change. Walking away or distancing yourself in frustration, will only assist the abuser to further isolate her from any type of support system.

Speak The Truth Without Telling Her What to Do 

Validate her and help her clearly see the situation. Keep telling her that you are worried about her and her safety. She needs to be validated over and over again. She has the same worries of safety too, but is constantly told by the abuser that she is stupid and crazy and this causes her to continually doubt herself. My friend once told me that what made her worry the most about me, was how I doubted my own thinking. She needed to remind me that I was a smart woman with a degree and a profession. When I heard her say those words, it helped me see more clearly when he was manipulative and dishonest.  Her words were powerful and gave me strength when I needed it. I repeated them often to myself when I felt doubt creep in and this strengthened my ability to discern correctly.

When you speak the truth of the situation to her clearly and often, it helps her to see and reason with clarity. It shatters the denial that she has been living with constantly. No one wants to believe that a spouse or loved one could potentially injure or kill them. So, speak the truth often but never through text or email. Remember that she has no privacy and the abuser is continually censoring her life.

Remember, she is constantly being told at home what to do and needs to learn to think for herself. Instead, give her information. Help her memorize the 24 hour DV help hotline to the nearest shelter or help her find a place to hide this information safely.  My sister gave me a card with the number on it and I hid it in the lining of my purse for a year before I gained the courage and opportunity to use it.

Be Observant and Help Her Document

During the years I lived with Domestic Violence, I was so fearful that I couldn’t speak but I wanted my friend to know how bad it had gotten at home. So one day before meeting her for the afternoon, I wore short sleeves on purpose. For the first time, I had stopped covering up the bruises. This was a huge step for me. I was tired of living a lie. She saw my arms and confronted me by asking me if he had done that to me. I shook my head "yes" in response. I felt so relieved to have finally shared my secret without having to open my mouth. She was livid and I needed her to tell me how wrong it was. Then she took pictures. I needed those pictures a year later and during the criminal trial. I was grateful that she helped me document the abuse.

Help Her Make a Plan 

Leaving safely is one of the most difficult things to do especially when you are living to survive and may not be thinking clearly. Along with giving her the number and address to local shelters and resources available, help her make a plan to escape so that when she feels ready she will also feel empowered.  She should have a bag of essential personal clothes and items: medication, personal documents, cash, and etc., for her and the children. It should be hidden somewhere far from the eyes of the abuser. Leaving quietly and unannounced is essentially for the safety of all involved. A victim of domestic violence is most at risk for death during the first days and weeks after leaving the abuser. Never, ever go back to the house for anything! Even if you are with her to help.

Recently in Salt Lake City, two women were shot by an abuser. One of the victims was the wife of the shooter. The other was the victim’s friend. She had come along to help her (the man’s wife) gather some personal items from the home. The woman who had previously left the abuser needed some personal items from the home, so she returned. They were educated, smart, and strong women. They didn’t realize how extremely violent and dangerous and desperate the abuser could be, since their own thinking was so different than that of the perpetrator. That mistake cost them dearly.

It is essential that the victim leave quietly and quickly to an unknown location. She has to be committed to this choice and so that is why it needs to be her choice. She should eventually discard her own phone. This will help her to continue to be strong by cutting off all contact with her abuser. Her thinking will continue to remain clear when she is free from his lies, threats, and manipulations. 

The friend who helped me to the shelter also helped me with this. She bought me an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. I had a new phone number and could communicate with her and my parents. I was able to assure them of my safety.  I didn’t disclose my location to anyone or my phone number.

After the victim leaves, the abuser will contact everyone that he thinks she may have had contact with and “wear” them down with questions and tears to find out her location. It is best that no one knows where she is and that is why the shelter is so essential for safety. Once she is safe with her children, she needs to immediately file a protective order. She can do this online and without an attorney. It’s easy and accessible with a computer. The shelter has one available for their residents.

Continue Giving Support, Love, and Encouragement 

Once the victim leaves the abusive relationship, she will need to brace herself for a battle. She will need to fight to regain her self-respect and heal. Encourage her to participate in the aftercare programs available through the Women’s Shelter and to receive counseling or therapy from a professional. Encourage her to return to the workforce or return to school and obtain a degree, if needed. There are many resources available for single women who still need to receive an under-graduate degree. Education and knowledge is essential in ending domestic violence. Just give her the information and then let her find her own pathway to healing.

The abuser will try to control and manipulate the victim and will use the court system as his forum to do so. Oftentimes, he will represent himself which can create a circus of the court system and could drain her financially and emotionally. If possible, go to the court hearings and sit near her. Act as a buffer. There is a victim’s advocate available through every police department that will also give this kind of support to victims of violence. Encourage her to ask for this support. The abuser will glare and try to intimidate her with his presence in court. I was so grateful for my friends who would stand on either side and escort me in and out of the building and away from him. Eventually, he will lose interest and move onto his next victim. She just needs to stand firm and tall and hold out until the end. This is an act of endurance and she will need you to just be a listening ear many times to give her the strength that she will need.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please, spread awareness and speak openly about the issue with those around you. Silence and fear, feed abuse and violence. Educate yourself and others around you, especially the youth and children in your life! Education and communication is the key to ending domestic violence. For more information about this issue please contact the websites:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Need to find help or a shelter near you? 

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