Recently, there has been a lot of attention focused toward domestic violence. If you are in a position of witnessing or hearing about domestic violence, here are some ways to react to help protect the victim.
1. “Is someone hurting you?” Some people believe that a lot of relationships are violent. They may know a lot of people with violent histories. They may have been a child witness to domestic violence. They may not have experience with other ways of being in a relationship. They may not know that what they are experiencing is abuse. Healthy loving relationships do not involve hitting, spying, manipulating, breaking things, controlling how much food a person eats, what they wear or who they talk to, etc. A conversation on healthy relationships may really bring things out in the open.
2. “I believe you.” Many people who are being abused see their circumstances as so far out of the realm of normal that no one would believe them if they told their story. Saying your believe them, no matter how strange the story sounds or how nice their partner seems, is a big step toward being a support to them.
3. “It’s not your fault.” So many times people who are being abused have been told, “If you only…” by their abuser. Some may have even begun to believe that they deserve what they are getting. Reassure the victim that violence is never OK and they did not do anything to deserve it.
4. “What can I do for you? How can I help you?” Being open and refraining from giving advice keeps the conversation open. Many victims will say, “I just need you to listen and to believe me.” If you are someone’s employer, you can offer to give them some flexibility in their schedule for appointments with domestic violence professionals, their lawyer or police.
5. “Do you have any resources?” There are people who spend their whole career working to keep victims safe. Referring your friend to them is going to be the most help that you can offer them. You may want to offer to make the call with your friend. After they talk with a professional, they may come to you for more help. There is a National Domestic Violence Hotline that can be reached at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or www.thehotline.org. Also, 211, like 411, will also connect you with a professional who can point you in a good direction. They are also available online at 211info.org.
What happens if you think a friend is abusing their partner? Say something. Telling a friend that you don’t like the way they talk to their romantic partner or to their kids takes bravery. We think, “It’s none of my business. It’s a private matter. I don’t want to start a fight.” Most people value the opinion of their friends and will correct their behavior if they are called out on it. Saying something as simple as, “Ouch! That was harsh” or “Hey, that makes me uncomfortable when you talk to your wife like that,” is enough to let your friend know that you are not OK with their behavior and gives them an opportunity to change. They may really need some help to know when they are crossing the line. If you think they are crossing the line in front of you, they are very likely crossing the line when no one is watching.
If you suspect someone you know is being abused or is abusing their partner and you don’t know how to talk to them about it, you can talk with a domestic violence professional before you talk to your friend. Call 211 to find a professional in your area. They will be happy to help you. No one deserves to be abused.
(Martha B. Fallis, MA, LCSW, is a therapist at Life Stone Counseling Centers specializing in helping others overcome life’s challenges. To learn more about Fallis, visit www.lifestonecenter.com.)