Family Violence occurs when there is abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. It happens to people in every neighborhood to people of every age, socioeconomic background and religion.
Physical assaults or threats of violence are the most visible form of abuse. However, they are only part of an abusive relationship. Other forms of abuse tear down the victim's self-confidence and cause them to loose faith in themselves and their abilities. Once they doubt themselves, they can be made to feel more dependent on the very person who is abusing them.
Other kinds of controlling tactics include:
- Verbal and emotional abuse.
- Isolating the victim from friends and family.
- Controlling money and financial resources.
- Threats to hurt self or other family members.
- Using children to make the victim feel guilty.
- Treating the victim like a servant.
- Repeated injuries or injuries that is difficult to account for as accidental. Many women are beaten while they are pregnant.
- Co-worker frequently calls in sick or takes vacation days sporadically and one to three days at a time.
- Co-worker or friend has little or no access to money, to a car or other forms of transportation, and is isolated from family and/or friends.
- Co-worker or friend frequently refers to partner's "anger" or "temper."
- Co-worker receives repeated phone calls at work from partner.
- Partner frequently shows up at your friend's or co-worker's office or place of work, often unannounced or unexpectedly.
- Co-worker or friend is reluctant to speak or to disagree in the presence of partner.
- Partner bullies or is abusive to suspected victim in public.
Abusers typically switch back and forth from angry, cruel actions to apologetic and tender behavior. This is very confusing to the victim: the one who scares and hurts them is also the person who makes them feel very needed and special. The longer the relationship goes on, the more fearful the victim will become. Typically the threats get worse and the victim becomes more isolated. In order to cope with such control, the victim denies her fear and minimizes the seriousness of the situation while hoping it will get better. She wears a mask of normalcy and tries not to draw attention to her problems.
That is why it is often hard to know how to help.
It is also why it is so important to REACH OUT.
Helping a victim of family violence is difficult. Typically we alternate between wanting to jump in and rescue the victim and feeling totally helpless. However, there is a middle course we can steer between the two extremes. Here are some key points to remember in helping someone who is battered:
- When you see tell-tale signs, speak up. Express caring concern, for example: "If you need to talk, I'm available."
- Gently ask questions about how things are going at home and listen attentively to the reply.
- Let them know you understand it's a tough thing to talk about and that you are not embarrassed by the topic.
- Let them see and hear that you will not judge them, for example: "I'm sure you have been doing what you think is best, but I have to let you know I'm concerned by what I'm seeing...," or "I know how confusing it can be when a loved on treats you this way.
- Do not try immediately to rescue them or to convince them to take action (unless they are in imminent danger). First, they need to see the possibility for change. Listen to their concerns. Share information on available options, like services at the Center for Battered Women (CBW), legal alternatives, counseling available for the abuser, etc.
- Express clear disapproval of their partner's abusive behavior but do not criticize partner as a person. For example, "George is basically a good person, but how he is treating you is wrong. In this area, he needs help.
- Use specific words to describe behaviors instead of "abuse", such as control, scare, intimidate, bully, etc.
Make (and repeat) clear statements about their rights and value as a person. Example: "You don't deserve to be treated that way. No one has the right to treat you that way."
- If they have children, ask how they think the kids are being affected. Emphasize that children always suffer when living with abuse, even if it's not directed at them.
- Tell them you're concerned for their safety (and the future of their relationship) if things continue as they are. Ask: "What do you think your life will be like in six months if things continue as they are?
- Write down and give them phone numbers of local resources such as CBW or other help lines. Encourage them to talk with someone they trust about this before it gets any worse. (Note: CBW responds to the needs of male victims of domestic abuse.)
- Do not give up on them. Do not be put off if you are rebuffed at first. Continue to reach out. Remember that underneath their mask, they are scared.
- Get support for yourself and your good efforts from friends and/or staff of Center for Battered Women.
- If you observe abuse, call the police. Do not put yourself at risk by trying to intervene directly.