What Friends Should Know About Domestic Violence
Gather all the information you can to learn about domestic violence. Contact programs and services in your area that assist victims of domestic violence and their children. These programs not only offer individuals safety, but also provide advocacy, support, and other needed services. Sometimes your own feelings about violence may make it difficult for you to confront the situation. Contact your local domestic violence hotline or program and talk to staff about your concerns. Domestic violence advocates can be an excellent source of support for both you and your friend. With this in mind, here are some thoughts and questions you may have:
"I should not get involved in a private family matter."
Domestic violence is not just a family problem. It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, his/her children and the entire community.
"The violence cannot really be that serious."
Domestic violence can involve threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It is rarely a one-time occurrence, and usually escalates in frequency and severity over time.
Domestic violence results in more injuries that require medical treatment than rape, auto accidents, and muggings combined. Moreover, thirty percent of the victims murdered in this country are killed by their spouses.
"That kind of behavior does not go on in my neighborhood."
Domestic violence occurs among all ages, races, and religions. It happens to people of all educational and income levels.
"He/she must be doing something to provoke the violence."
Your friend is the victim of battering; he/she is not to blame nor does he/she ever deserve such treatment. Whatever problems exist in a relationship, the use of violence to resolve them is never justified or acceptable.
"If it is so bad, why doesn’t he/she just leave?"
For most of us, the decision to end a relationship is not an easy one. A battered man or woman’s emotional ties to his/her partner may be strong, supporting his/her hope that the violence will end. If s/he has been financially dependent on his/her partner and leaves with his/her children, s/he will likely face severe economic hardship. S/he may not know about available resources. Or perhaps social and justice systems have been unresponsive to him/her in the past. Religious, cultural, or family pressures may make him/her believe it is his/her duty to keep his/her marriage together at all costs. When s/he tried to leave in the past, his/her partner may have used violence to stop her.
"Doesn’t he/she care about what is happening to his/her children?"
Your friend is probably doing his/her best to protect his/her children from the violence. S/he may feel that the abuse is only directed at him/her, and does not yet realize its effects on the children. Perhaps s/he believes that his/her children need a father/mother, or lacks the resources to support them on her own. The children may beg her to stay, not wanting to leave their home or their friends. She fears that if s/he leaves s/he will lose custody of his/her children.
"I know him/her -- I really don’t think s/he could hurt anyone.
Many abusers are not violent in other relationships. They can be charming and lovable in a social situation, yet display extreme violence in the privacy of the home.
"He/she must be sick."
Battering is a learned behavior, not a mental illness. The abuser’s experience as a child, and the messages s/he gets from society in general tell him/her that violence is an effective way to achieve power and control over his/her partner’s behavior, which s/he believes is acceptable. Men and women who batter are accountable for their own actions. Viewing them as "sick" wrongly excuses them from taking responsibility for their behavior.
"I think he/she has a drinking problem. Could that be the cause of the violence?"
Although alcohol or drug use may intensify an already existing violent behavior, it does not cause battering. Men and women who batter typically make excuses for their violence, claiming a loss of control due to alcohol/drug use or extreme stress. Battering, however, does not represent a loss of control, but a way of achieving it.
"How can he/she still care for someone who abuses him/her?"
Chances are, the man or woman is not always abusive. He/she may actually show remorse for his/her violence, promising that he/she will change. Your friend understandably hopes for such change. Their relationship probably involves a cycle of good times, bad times, and in-between times. However, the longer the violent relationship continues, the less likely there will be any good times at all.
"Lately s/he’s been distant. I don’t know if we’re still friends."
The abuser senses that a partner with fewer relationships can be more easily controlled. The abuser may be extremely jealous of any relationships the partner has outside the home. A battered man or woman may distance himself or herself from friends fearing that they will discover the violence and blame the victim for it. Try talking to your friend about the problem of battering in a general way. Let your friend know you do not blame battered victims for the violence.
Lend a Sympathetic Ear
Letting your friend know that you care and are willing to listen may be the best help you can offer. Don’t force the issue, but allow your friend to come to you to talk when she/he is ready to confide in you. Keep your mind open and really listen to what your friend tells you. Never blame your friend for what’s happening or underestimate his/her fear of potential danger. Remember that your friend must make his/her own decisions about his/her life. Focus on supporting your friend's right to make his/her own choices.
Guide Your Friend to Community Services
When your friend asks for advice on what to do, share the information you’ve gathered privately. Let your friend know that s/he is not alone and that caring people are available to help. Encourage him/her to seek the assistance of domestic violence advocates at the local domestic violence hotline or program. Assure your friend that any information s/he shares with them will be kept strictly confidential. Many people who have been abused first seek the advice of marriage counselors, psychiatrists, or members of the clergy. Although many of these "helping professionals" may be able to give your friend good advice, it is also important to remember that many helping professionals are not specially trained to deal with domestic violence issues. If you think that your friend's clergy person, marriage counselor, psychiatrist, or other advisor is not specifically trained to deal with domestic violence issues, encourage your friend to contact a domestic violence hotline or service provider in the area.
Focus on Your Friend's Strengths
Many abused people live with emotional as well as physical abuse. Your friend may be continually told by the abuser that s/he is a bad person, called names, or other negative things. Without positive reinforcement from outside of the home, s/he may begin to believe s/he can’t do anything right-that there really is something wrong with him/her.
Give the emotional support s/he needs to believe that s/he is a good person. Help your friend examine his/her strengths and skills. Emphasize that s/he deserves a life that is free from violence.
Be a Friend in Deed
Tell your friend you’re there when s/he needs you. Provide whatever you can: transportation, child care, financial assistance, or anything else that could help your friend stay safe.
Confront Your Friend with the Danger
At some point, you may find it difficult to be supportive of your friend if s/he remains in the violent relationship or returns to the abuser after a temporary separation. Let your friend know that not everyone lives with abuse. Be willing to confront your friend with the physical and emotional harm that s/he and his/her children will suffer if s/he stays. Help your friend face up to the dangerous reality of living with an abusive partner. Remind your friend that even a push or a shove can result in serious injury.
Help Your Friend Develop a Safety Plan
Encourage your friend to develop a plan to protect herself or himself and his/her children. Help your friend think through the steps to take if your friend's abuser becomes violent again. Make a list of people s/he can call in an emergency.
Suggest that your friend put together and hide a suitcase of clothing, personal items, money, social security cards, bank books, the children’s birth certificates and school records, and other important documents. Offer to keep this suitcase at your home if you are able to do so.
Offer to Take Care of Your Friend's Pet
Often, abused persons delay leaving their homes because of concern for their pets. If you can take care of your friend's pet while s/he is away, that will help him or her to leave sooner and will also keep the pet safe from the abuser. More information on domestic violence and pets can be found on peoples-law.org.
If Your Friend Decides to Leave
The first safe place your friend should contact is the local domestic violence hotline or domestic violence shelter. Shelter workers can help your friend examine his/her options. If your friend decides to leave, a shelter may be the safest place to go. The sad truth, however, is that not all communities have shelters or safe homes. Sometimes shelters don’t have enough room for all the people who need their help. Your friend may need to rely on family or friends for temporary housing.
Be careful when offering and providing safety in your home. Abused people frequently face the most physical danger in the attempt to leave. Be very discreet and talk to domestic violence program staff about the best way to handle this.
When to Intervene
It cannot be overemphasized that domestic violence is a crime that can result in serious injury and even death. If you know or have reasonable suspicion that a battering incident is occurring, call the police immediately.