Most of us have been touched in one way or another with domestic violence, whether it ourselves or someone we know. I’ve been fortunate not to be a victim of abuse but do know many people who have. How can we recognize the signs and how can we help a loved one who is experiencing this? First and foremost, do not judge. Many of us don’t understand how a person could allow themselves to fall prey to domestic violence, but bear in mind an abuser is cunning and manipulative… they usually start out loving and attentive, then move on to a systematic way of breaking their partner down. At that point, the victim knows she is unhappy with parts of the relationship but she still *loves* him… she usually clings to the notion her partner will change his ways. Worse is she feels it’s HER fault, as if she is causing this horrific behavior, such as not having dinner waiting when her partner gets home or she didn’t vacuum the carpet that day, or maybe she shouldn’t have spent money on fuel for the car… the list is endless. The bottom line for victims to know is IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
- There are some subtle ways an abuser will begin to control his victim… that’s what it’s all about, control. He wants to alienate you from your children and other family (and friends), all the while laying down excuses why those people aren’t good for you. He continues chipping away at those relationships until you eventually decide to give up because you can’t take arguing about it anymore, and besides, when you do argue about it, this only fuels his anger and frustration. Sometimes the lack of respect will result in embarrassing you in public, then twisting the circumstances around as if it was your doing… that if you had a backbone, he wouldn’t have to result to such extreme measures. This is also his excuse for hitting you.
So what are some warning signs someone you know could be a victim of domestic violence? The person might become more withdrawn, appearing anxious and depressed… they might dress in clothing to hide bruises (wearing long-sleeves in warm weather, sunglasses indoors), they frequently miss work or school, and they tend to avoid social occasions.
The most dangerous time for a woman is when she decides to leave her partner. A restraining order (and/or order of protection) is the first step, but it’s only a piece of paper and not always enough to keep the perpetrator at bay. If you have children, contact a local domestic violence shelter for legal advice and referrals. If you’re a victim of abuse, it’s ALWAYS best to have a plan in place prior to leaving, and if you’re the concerned family member or friend, help this woman get her “ducks in a row”.
- Have a person lined up who is willing to take you (and your children) in, preferably someone the abuser will not know about (if there’s no one to take you in, there are almost always domestic violence shelters in your area – have their number linked in your phone and memorize their address)
- Have a bag packed so you can leave home in a hurry
- Have a secret stash of cash to take with you
- Call a trusted person to let them know you’re leaving so if anything happens, that person knows your plan
- Some newer cell phones are equipped to disguise a call number for 911 so your abuser won’t know you’ve dialed for help… if you call, the phone will stay on so police officers can hear… if you don’t have this function on your phone, after dialing 911 leave your phone on – for same reasons
- And above all else, do not wait for the abuser to return home to tell him you’re leaving – LEAVE when he’s not home
What can you do if you know someone who’s the victim of abuse? Above all else, speak up. Let them know you’re concerned and are there for them. Gently persuade your loved one that she is worth much more than being treated in such a manner, and be sure to validate her feelings of love for the abuser… do not try to convince her she doesn’t *love* him because that will only alienate her further from you. A victim of abuse usually feels shame and embarrassment. She needs support, not judgment. Encourage her to have an emergency plan in place, and better yet, help organize the plan.
If you or a loved one is the victim of domestic violence, contact a hotline or local shelter for further advice.
Remember… you are worth your life!