The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I am trying to be as active as can be on social media to spread the word.
At 23 years old I found myself married to someone who epitomized Jekyll and Hyde. Most people looked at our marriage and saw two beautiful and happy people. Most people found my husband charming and handsome and fascinating and inspirational. Most people thought we were a dream couple. At home, behind closed doors, I walked on eggshells all the time. I perfected being perfect. I was in a constant state of heightened awareness… and for a period of time… when any little thing went wrong I was physically abused.
It started small and seemingly insignificant – he would grab my arm during an argument, he would shove me out of the way, he would toss an object at me more forcefully than he should have. The violence escalated over time to where he would slap me, choke me, push me into things, kneel on my chest, drag me across the room by my hair, pinch my skin until it bruised, spray water in my face until I couldn’t breathe. He was careful to never leave any visible wounds… and I was real damn good at faking a smile.
I did crazy things in the name of “love”, and I lost all connection with the people that I loved and cared most about. The concept of leaving was scary on so many levels. The idea of even admitting to myself that I was being abused was scary. As much as I knew that the people around me loved me and cared about me… getting to the point where I was ready to leave was something that I had to be ready for myself. Like most people in abusive relationships, The first time I worked up the courage to leave I ended up going back. All-in-all it took me about 8 years before I was in a strong enough place to be able to walk away and love myself before I loved him.
So, what exactly is a friend or family member supposed to do to help a victim in a domestic violence scenario? While I am not sure what will work in every scenario, I do know what did and did not help me during my situation, and these are my personal recommendations:
- If you recognize the signs of Domestic Violence in a relationship, find a safe and private way to let the person know that you love them and you are worried about them. Recognize that the person may not realize on their own yet that they are being abused, they might come across as in denial and even defensive. Do not be forceful of your opinions and focus on the fact that you love them and you want them to be safe and happy. Also, do not assume that things like text messages, emails, or social media are private. My ex had access to absolutely everything and he would use anything he could as evidence against my family and friends.
- Know that you will get frustrated. You will worry that your loved one has gone crazy. You will probably want to yell at and attack and even harm the abuser. Please understand that these tactics will only give the abuser the “proof” that they need to claim that you are the unhealthy ones and then the victim will be forced into a situation of choosing their partner over you. Do your best to be civil and keep the relationship with the victim and the abuser as friendly as possible… this will help your loved one be able to stay in contact with you.
- Be ready for them, whenever they are ready. The victim will likely pull away even further before they get to a point of being able to leave. Don’t get mad at them, don’t delete their phone number, and don’t cut off contact. Be there even if it is at a distance because at some point they will reach out to you whether it is a 2:00 am phone call, or showing up at your front door out of the blue, or emailing you from a new and private account. They will find a way, and it is so important that you are there for them when they are finally ready to make a move.
- When a victim leaves their abusive relationship they are in the most danger. Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship. Help them be smart in these situations. Do not let them be alone in general, certainly do not let them be alone with their abuser, and help them with the appropriate legal filings if a restraining order is necessary.
- Be prepared that they will likely go back. On average, it takes domestic violence victims Seven Times to leave their abuser. When victims leave, they experience a range of emotions including: depression, anxiety, a full-blown chemical crash and all types of feelings of fear and worry. What is difficult for most people to understand is that they actually miss their abuser. They are actually experiencing a broken heart and a sense of longing for the fairy tale they thought they would have. When an abuser reaches out and is “So sorry” for all that they have done and “Can’t live without them” and even sometimes “Wants to kill them self” because they are so distraught… even the strongest victim can go back. They want to believe that their abuser can change, they want to believe they can do the right thing… and they will soon realize that nothing has changed.
I imagine that it feels very helpless to be on the sidelines knowing that someone you love is being abused. I can vividly remember the ways that my family would look at me with concern in their eyes and the way my dad slipped me $200 in cash when I went back to my abuser “just in case I needed it.” I have heard the stories of the anger and the frustration, and it absolutely breaks my heart.
So… just be there people… in absolutely any way that you can. Know that you won’t be able to force a victim into making this tough decision and, absolutely take action if you believe that someone is in a life-threatening situation.
Help for Women:
- In the US: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- In Canada: Visit ShelterSafe to find the helpline of a women’s shelter near you.
- UK: Call Women’s Aid UK at 0808 2000 247.
- Ireland: Call Women’s Aid at 1800 341 900.
- Australia: Call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
- Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centers.