IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE AFFECTED BY DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE
Chances are someone you know - your neighbour, co-worker, friend, sister or mother - is a victim of domestic and family violence. The following are some signs that might alert you that someone you know may be affected by domestic and family violence:
- She may have bruises or injuries or she has frequent "accidents" for which she gives vague explanations. These "accidents" sometimes cause her to miss work.
- Her partner controls her activities, the family's finances, the way she dresses or her contact with friends and family.
- She frequently cancels plans at the last minute or seems afraid of making her partner angry.
- Her partner ridicules her publicly or you sense volatility in his comments.
- Her partner seems overly attentive, remains constantly by her side or is watchful about who she talks to.
- You notice changes in her or her children's behaviour. She appears frightened or exhausted.
Perhaps you feel her problem will "work itself out". Not so, domestic and family violence doesn't usually end unless action is taken to stop it. But it can be hard to know what to do. People are often reluctant to discuss something so intimate and they're afraid of intruding.
Some common beliefs that stop people from offering to help:
I shouldn't 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, her children and the entire community.
She must be doing something to provoke his violence.
Problems exist in many relationships but using violence to resolve them is never acceptable.
If it was really bad, she would just leave?
For most of us a decision to end a relationship is not easy. Leaving a violent relationship is even harder. A woman's emotional ties to her partner may be strong, giving her hope that the violence will end. She may be financially dependent and if she leaves she will likely face severe economic hardship. She may not know about resources or social and justice systems may have been unhelpful to her in the past.
Doesn't she care about what's happening to her children?
Your friend is probably doing her best to protect her children from violence. She may feel that the abuse is directed only at her and doesn't yet realize its effects on the children. She may believe her children need a father or she may lack the resources to support them on her own. The children may beg her to stay, not wanting to leave their home or friends. She may fear that if she leaves she will lose custody of her children.
I know him and I really don't think he could hurt anyone.
Many abusers are not violent in other relationships. They appear to be very charming and likeable in social situations whilst at the same time they can be extremely violent towards their partner in the privacy of their homes. This is often one of the barriers preventing many women from leaving as he isn't like it all the time or to other people. They may fear if they disclose the abuse to others that they won't be believed because he does appear to be such a nice guy. Abusers often use this against her telling her 'Nobody will believe you'. Abusers can come across as great guys to other people. Just because you've never seen him behave abusively don't assume he doesn't.
How can she still care for someone who abuses her?
Chances are the man is not abusive all the time. He may actually show remorse for his violence, promising that he will change. Your friend understandably hopes for such changes. Their relationship probably involves good times, bad times and in-between times.
If she wanted my help, she'd ask for it.
Your friend may not want to confide in you, feeling you may not understand her situation. She may even be ashamed of what's happeningj and that may make her seem aloof. Talk to her about abuse in a general way. Tell her you're concerned about women who are abused and that you do not blame women for the violence.
How you can help
For many women, friends and family are often the first people they talk to about domestic violence. It takes a lot of time, planning, help and courage to escape domestic violence. It is important for women to know that help is available from people who know and care about the situation.
Listen without judging her.
Tell your friend that you care and are willing to listen. If she is willing to talk listen carefully and empathically in a safe place. Believe her. Never blame her for what's happening or underestimate her fear of danger. Let her know that no one deserves to be abused, beaten or threatened.
Allow her to make her own decisions.
As you listen, try to understand the many obstacles that prevent her from leaving. It's usually very complex. Focus on supporting her in making her own decisions. If she is being abused then he is exercising a lot of control over her life. It is very important she is encouraged to make choices for herself even if it means staying with the abuser for now. It is often the first step towards freedom. Even if she leaves him and then goes back, don't withdraw your support.
Guide her to a specialist domestic violence support service.
Many women who have found freedom describe someone they knew (a neighbour, doctor, friend) offering support and referring them to a support service. Let her know she is not alone and that people are available to help her. Assure her that they will keep information about her confidential. Many women first seek the advice of marriage counsellors, psychiatrists, church and others. Unfortunately not all helping professionals are fully aware of the complexities of domestic violence and the safety issues she faces. If the first person she contacts is not helpful, encourage her to speak to the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre Gold Coast Inc. on 5532 9000.
Help her make a safety plan.
Your friend may decide to remain in the violent relationship or return to the abuser after a temporary separation. Don't pressure her to leave but let her know that you are afraid for her and her children and help her consider how dangerous the violence may be. Encourage her to keep a diary of what's happening to her if it is safe to do so. Help her think about steps she can take if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people to call in an emergency. Suggest she hides a suitcase of clothing, money, Centrelink cards, bankbooks, birth certificates and school records for future emergencies. Acknowledge that she may be in the most danger while she's trying to leave.
Help her find a safe place.
Help your friend contact the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre. The staff can help her examine her options and assist her to find a safe place to go.
If you see an assault in progress, take action.
Call the police on triple zero (000). Don't assume that someone else has done so. If you are in your car honk your horn until a group gathers, he stops hitting her, or the police come. These situations can be dangerous so whatever you do be sure to keep yourself safe. But do take action. At the very least, watch them. Being a witness in a way that lets him know that you see him may reduce his level of violence.
(Adapted from "Helping the Battered Woman, A Guide for Family and Friends," National Woman Abuse Prevention Project, 1989.)