“Do not give up hope. Do not let yourself believe that this is all the rest your life has to hold. Seek help somehow, any way. Tell someone. Make a plan. Make a phone call.”
— A domestic violence survivor
By Christine Murray
The above quote, taken from research I’ve done with my colleague Allison Crowe, a professor at East Carolina University, was the message that this survivor wanted to send to other people who are experiencing an abusive relationship. When someone is being abused, it is critical she gets the help she needs to get safe. If one of your friends or family members needed this type of help, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone.
From the outside looking into an abusive relationship, it’s common to feel confused about how best to help. It’s also very normal to feel frustrated to watch someone return to an abusive partner. People also may fear for the safety of their loved one, as well as the impact of the abuse on other people, including any involved children. The process of leaving an abusive relationship is complicated, and often lengthy, and all these emotions can take their toll on people who care about the survivor.
Based on our research with hundreds of survivors of intimate partner violence, we launched the See the Triumph campaign in January 2013.
Since that time,
one of the most common questions I’m asked about abusive relationships is how to help a friend or other loved one who is being abused. Through See the Triumph, we suggest the following five ways you can help someone you know or suspect is being abused:
1. Remain nonjudgmental. Show your support for her (or his) decisions, and let her know she is the expert in her own life. You may not understand the choices she makes,
but she may be facing safety risks or other challenges you don’t know about, such as if her partner has threatened to hurt her if she leaves the relationship.
2. Ask her what kind of help she needs from you. The help she needs now may not match what you think she needs. She may simply need a supportive person to listen to her story. If she says she doesn’t need help now, let her know you are there for her if she needs you in the future.
3. Know your limits. You don’t need to be an expert to be able to help someone who is in an abusive relationship. However, some of her needs may go beyond what you can provide. For that reason, learn about the resources available here in Greensboro to help people affected by domestic violence. These include the following:
* The Greensboro Police Department’s Family Victims Unit: (336) 373-2331; www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=3705 (For an immediate need, call 911).
* Family Service of the Piedmont: 24-hour crisis hotline, (336) 273-7273; www.familyservice-piedmont.org.
I’ve worked closely with many of the professionals in these organizations, and I know them to be caring, competent and passionate about helping people in our community who are affected by domestic violence.
4. Offer to provide practical support that will help her to be safe. In any efforts you make to help someone who is in an abusive relationship, be sure to protect your own safety as well. If it is safe for you to do so, there are many types of practical support you could offer to a friend who is being abused, such as keeping copies of important paperwork at your house or coming up with a code word or signal to indicate a need to call the police.
5. Tell her she deserves to be safe and loved. When someone is being abused, she often hears messages from her abuser that she is worthless, and she is often treated with disrespect and disregard for her needs. To help counter these messages, it is important for her to hear strong, consistent messages from other people in her life that her life has value, and that the abuse is not her fault.
Beyond these steps, there are many opportunities — especially in October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month — for everyone to get involved in community efforts to prevent future violence. For example, on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. at Country Park, the Greensboro Police Department will host “The Purple Relay” to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise funds for our local domestic violence shelters.
I challenge everyone in our community to take time to learn how to help someone who is being abused. Let’s all take steps to understand the dynamics of domestic violence, learn about resources available in our community and be able to provide nonjudgmental support to survivors.
Together, we can send a powerful message to survivors in our community, as illustrated by this quote from another survivor in our research:
“You are not alone and you don’t have to fight this battle by yourself.”
Christine Murray is an associate professor in the UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development and is a co-founder of the See the Triumph campaign to end the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence.