Working in a shelter as an advocate in the field of Domestic Abuse I received many phone calls from family and friends of an abuse victim. Wanting to help and not knowing exactly what to do, these mothers, brothers, friends or co-workers would call the Domestic Abuse Hotline seeking answers.
Often the call would begin, “My __________ is being abused by her husband/boyfriend. He’s going to kill her if something isn’t done but she won’t leave. You (meaning us at the shelter) have to do something. You have to call her and tell her to leave”. If only it were that easy.
One of the hardest things we as advocates had to do was to tell the love one that we couldn’t call the person that was being abused; she or he would have to take that first step and call us. The person on the other end of the line would do one of two things; begin to cry or begin to cuss and tell us how uncaring ____ ___ ____ we were.
We as advocates would understand the frustration, pain and anger. No one wants to stand by and see someone they love in pain. It is one thing if the person has cancer or is physically ill. But how and why would someone allow another person to abuse them; physically, mentally or emotionally? The callers just couldn’t understand.
So how does one help a family member, a friend, neighbor or co-worker that may be in an abusive relationship?
Begin by learning about abuse. Visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, www.ncada.org , and learn the signs of abuse. Is the person you are worried about depressed, withdrawn, fearful? Do they appear nervous and careful what they say or do if the abuser is around? Are there any bruises or other injuries that come with vague explanations? These are some of the signs or red flags that might give a signal abuse is taking place.
Be a good listener. Be non-judgmental. Don’t push the subject if your friend or family member chooses not to talk. Often a victim of abuse doesn’t realize they are in an abusive relationship. This happens if both the victim and abuser grew up in an abusive home. Sometimes the victim is in denial, unwilling or unable to face the abuse.
The victim may be embarrassed, ashamed or afraid to bring up the subject or ask for help.
Also there is always the hope that the abuse was a one time occurrence and will never happen again. The problem is it is never a one time thing, it always happens again.
Be patient. It is important for the person that is being abused learn to trust. Be there for them. Don’t push.
Call the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, your local Domestic Abuse Hotline or shelter and find out what help and resources are available in your area. Request pamphlets or handouts and carry these with you. If the opportunity arises show them the pamphlets and talk to them about what help is available. Never leave any type of domestic abuse literature in their pocket or home unknown to them, as this could put the victim in danger.
Keep yourself safe. Every year family members and friends trying to help are murdered along with the victims of abuse. This isn’t a game. Safety is the key.
Finally accept there is only so much you can do.