If you are a person in a domestically violent relationship, please know that there are resources available to you when you are ready. You may reach out the National Domestic Violence Hotline on their website here, as well as call the Hotline number at: 1-800-799-7233 OR 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
In my previous post, Why Victims in Domestic Violence Relationships Stay, we talked about the dynamics of a domestically violent relationship. The Cycle of Domestic Violence, as well as the Power and Control Wheel were detailed, in hopes of you walking away with a more comprehensive idea of what domestic violence truly means, and what’s at risk when leaving.
I felt the ending of that was quite negative and helpless, so I wanted to provide additional information on how we can equip ourselves to help others that are involved in domestic violence – both those committing the abuse, and those at that fall victim to it. Basic strategies and guidelines will be discussed, so you may end this week with feeling more prepared and ready to help, rather than helpless.
To begin, I want to stress the importance of allowing the person to leave the relationship on their own terms. As a support system, it may be frustrating to watch them go through what they are going through, especially when it involves abuse. However, getting angry at the person, or giving them ultimatums (i.e. “If you don’t leave him, I’m never talking to you again.”) NEVER helps the situation, and only puts more stress on the individual. With that being said, my number one piece of advice is this: Be there when they’re ready.
Leaving any relationship is hard, and significantly more so when you have been abused and manipulated by the person you thought you loved, and whom you thought loved you. There is also significantly more pressure and hardship when there are children involved. What someone needs the most in this situation is a person who is always there. When this person being abused cries to you on the phone about what just happened, write it down. Keep your own account including the date, time, and what occurred. Inform the police, a domestic violence shelter, etc. so that there is a trail of evidence. If you have your suspicions, but the person has not confided in you, keep a record anyways. Are there bruises? Did you ask the person about them, and if so, how did they respond? Whether or not they want someone to help, have the record of incidences just in case, especially if events become serious and violent.
Offer a safe space – physically, emotionally, mentally. Be the break this person needs. Let them sleepover if they need to, let them use your phone. Be there for them when they are hurting, because many times, others may not want to support them.
While these events are transpiring, have other contacts and a plan of action. Create a support system for this individual so that this intense time is not just on you supporting your friend. Involve other coworkers, church members, neighbors, family members, etc. if the person being abused is okay with that. Collaborate and get together to ensure everyone is on the same page, and knows the action plan when it’s needed.
Be ready for when you get the call and the person says they are leaving. One possible plan is to have the person go to work, grocery shopping, or drop the kids off, as per usual, but not come home. Over time, they could bring one extra article of clothing with them, but this is a risk given the level of control and supervision an abuser displays. If they must leave it all behind, be prepared with extra clothing and necessities. This can also take place if the person committing abuse goes out of the house. Be ready to pack FAST, and get them out of there. If you’ve been in contact with a domestic violence shelter to inform them of the situation, let them know that the person has left the abusive partner. Feel free to also inform the police (probably use the non-emergency line). If there are children in school, pick them up when they are done with their day, or have someone from social services do so. Because social services alone could scare and traumatize the children, see if the parent leaving the relationship can accompany, but only if it is safe. Have a new phone in place for the person, as phone tracking could be utilized by the abuser.
Now that the individual has left the partner, their chances of being murdered by said partner have increased by 70%. If children are involved, they are also at risk. Make sure this is no trace of the partner that left and of the children. If the person leaving gives their consent, contact the police if you have not done so already, so that they may start their investigation and potential arrest. Provide law enforcement with your information and record of the events. Also inform them of what domestic violence shelter you have been in contact with, or another social services agency. This can be beneficial when looking at a person’s history and records, especially when they can corroborate events.
Lastly, do not speak to the person that was abusing. You may likely be a suspect in the abuser’s mind. They will most likely be in a rage, and on the hunt for the partner and children that left. Speaking or provoking them WILL NOT HELP ANYTHING, and will put your own life at risk. Ensure security and safety for your friend and yourself by avoiding the abusive partner. If the partner that abused sees or, or if the person that left had an interaction with them, notify the police immediately. At this point, the individual SHOULD be involved fully with social services so that a Safety Plan is in place. This plan should include a restraining order of some sort.
Now, one last thing I want to mention. The person that you helped in leaving an abusive relationship may go back. And this is the absolute HARDEST part. You must remain there, supportive as before, and continue to keep record of the events. Continue to be there when they are ready again and again. Eventually, they will officially and forever leave their abusive partner, bu they must do so on their terms, so let them.
This post is HEAVY. Being a support system for a person in a domestically violent relationship is burdensome and hard. As stated above, if you are able, create a larger network of support for the person leaving, so you are not alone in this. Having a network will also assist in keeping the individual safe if they need to stay in someone’s home. But you are strong. The person leaving their abusive partner is STRONG. It is possible to leave and to start new. How great will it be when you are able to see your friend, family member, or coworker live a happier life when this all passes. It will be worth this struggle, this fear, this frustration. It will be.
~Laura Swanson, BSW