Do you suspect that a woman you know is being emotionally or physically abused? If you can answer yes to some of the following questions, it is likely that you are right.
Do you see or hear about repeated bruises, broken bones, or other injuries? Does she say they are the results of “falls” or “accidents”?
Does she complain about anxiety, depression or vague fears? Does she seem frightened, withdrawn, too quiet or reluctant to speak?
Does he criticize her in front of you, or make “joking” remarks that belittle her? Does he tell her what to do and not to do?
Is her partner overly “attentive”, jealous or demanding of her time? When you leave messages for her with him, does she get the messages?
Are you ever afraid of her partner?
Does she refer to his bad moods, anger, temper or short fuse? Does she refer to obnoxious things he does when he drinks?
Does he ignore the children or abuse them emotionally, physically or sexually? Do they seem timid, frightened or too “angelic” in his presence? Do the children physically or verbally abuse her?
Have there been suicide or homicide attempts or threats in this family?
Is he accusing her of having affairs with other people? Does he try to control her every move? Must she account for her time?
Is there alcohol or drug use in this family?
Does she speak of him as though he is a far better or more important person than she is? Does she seldom speak of activities, events, or people that interest her?
Is she often late or absent from work, or has she quit her job altogether? Does she break appointments at the last minute or fail to show up?
In warm weather, does she sometimes wear inappropriate clothes with long sleeves, turtlenecks, or neck scarves? Does she sometimes wear unusually heavy makeup, or at inappropriate times, hats, head scarves or sunglasses?
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
The hardest part about talking to an abused woman is getting started. The first conversation with an abuse victim will not be easy, but to be of help, you must begin.
At the Beginning
Make or create the conditions necessary for a conversation:
Enough time to talk at length
Say the obvious:
“You seem so unhappy. Do you want to talk about it? I’d like to listen, and I’ll keep it between us.”
“I couldn’t help but hear your argument last night, and I was worried about you. Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
Because a controlling partner lays all the blame on her, an abused woman is likely to hear any questions about her actions, her background or her personal life as accusations. Such questions will silence her. Many women feel particularly blamed when outsiders ask probing questions about her, as if there was something wrong with her.
How to Get Started
Any of the following questions might help. Broad questions, like numbers 1, 2 or 3, might help introduce the topic.
What’s it like at home for you?
What happens when you or your partner disagree or argue?
How does your partner handle things when he doesn’t get his way? What does he do?
Are you ever scared of him? Does he threaten you?
Does he ever follow you? Do you have to account to him for your time?
Does he ever prevent you from doing things you want to do?
Is he jealous, hard-to-please, irritable, demanding, critical?
Does he ever push you around or hit you?
Does he ever put you down, call you names, yell at you, punish you in any way?
Does he ever make you have sex? Does he ever make you do sexual things that you don’t like?
How it Will Go
Many women will be eager to talk, if they feel safe. You can help a woman by assuring her that you’ll keep her story confidential – and doing so. When she tells her story, listen attentively. Don’t interrupt. Don’t let your facial expression or body language convey doubt or judgment of what she’s saying.
When a woman talks to you about her problems with a controlling or abusive partner, your reaction is vitally important. Women who have left abusive situations say that every bit of help and every expression of support matter. Before you undertake any practical help for a woman who confides in you, ask if her partner is violent or threatening. If so, call a local domestic violence program or shelter to talk over the situation, assess the danger, and plan for safety. You might suggest that you and the woman make this call together.
When she finishes talking, ask, “How can I help?”. Let her know that you care and that there are people and agencies that want to help her. Make it clear that it is her partner who has a problem and that she cannot fix it herself, no matter how hard she tries.
Remember: if she refuses to talk to you, she has her reasons. Express your concern for her anyway. Tell her that emotional, physical and sexual abuse are wrong and that she deserves better. Assure her that you will stand by, ready to talk or help, if she asks. Then stand by and prepare to talk or help, when she asks for it.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
What do you do when a woman confides in you about abuse? You may have a friend, relative, or neighbor who is being abused. You may have witnessed the violence, heard it, seen physical signs of it, or merely suspected it for various reasons. What should you do?
Believe her. She will not exaggerate about the abuse. Many abusers are so charming and gracious to outsiders that what you see of his behavior may deceive you.
She has taken a risk; her partner could hurt her or you could reject her. Acknowledge and support her for talking to you.
It is common for her to feel frightened, confused, angry, sad, guilty, numb, helpless or hopeless. Let her know that you consider her feelings reasonable and normal.
Avoid treating her like a child or a helpless victim. Remind her of her strengths and accomplishments.
Respect her pace and be patient. No one decides to give up a relationship overnight. She may face threats and escalating assaults; she may be afraid of losing the children, or of being destitute.
Support the decisions she makes for herself. Help her make plans, but let her make the decisions. Always support her when she acts on her own behalf.
Let her lead the conversation. You can ask questions like, “How can I help you?” but don’t expect her to have answers the first time she talks.
Take her fears seriously. Tell her you care about her and her safety.
Don’t blame her for the abuse. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault and that only her abuser can stop the violence. Remember that her feelings about her partner are probably mixed; if you express too much anger at him, she may feel the need to defend him.
Listen without judging. Abused women often believe their abusers’ negative messages. They feel responsible, ashamed, inadequate, and are afraid they will be blamed.
Explain that domestic violence is a crime, as much of a crime as robbery or rape, and that she can seek protection from the justice system.
Explain that violence in a relationship is never acceptable, at any time. There’s no excuse for it: not alcohol or drugs, not financial pressures, not depression, not jealousy.
Make sure she knows she’s not alone, that millions of Americans from every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group suffer from abuse, and that many women find it difficult to leave.
If she has children, reinforce her concern for them, letting her know that domestic violence is damaging to her children. In fact, you may want to reach out to support her children, and let them know you’re there for them, too.
Let her know that it is likely that, in spite of his promises, the violence will continue and, probably escalate.
Emphasize that when she is ready, she can make a choice to leave the relationship, and that there is help available.
Provide her with information about local resources: the phone number of the local domestic violence hotlines, support groups, counseling, shelter programs, and legal advocacy services.
She may need financial assistance, help finding a place to live, a place to store her belongings, or help in caring for pets. She may need assistance to escape. Decide if you feel comfortable helping out in these ways.
Contact your local domestic violence program yourself for advice and guidance.
Help her to plan for a safe escape in advance. If she is planning to leave, remind her to take important papers with her, such as birth certificates, passports, health insurance documents, etc.
If she remains in the relationship, continue to be her friend while at the same time firmly communicating to her that she and her children do not deserve to be in the violent situation.
If she wants to go to an agency or abuse shelter, volunteer to go with her. If she is in immediate danger, call the police.
With her permission, enlist other friends or co-workers to help with child care or go along to court.
If you see or hear an assault in progress, call the police. These assaults are often dangerous to outsiders; do not intervene yourself.
If you are in a crisis situation and require immediate assistance, dial 911 or the 24-hour shelter hotline on your island:
Hilo: 959-8864 Kauai: 245-6362 Kona: 322-SAFE (7233) Maui/Lanai: 579-9581
Molokai: 567-6888 Oahu: 841-0822 (Town/Leeward) 526-2200 (Windward)