Helping a Victim
HOW TO APPROACH SOMEONE YOU SUSPECT IS BEING ABUSED
- Start with three simple statements; “I believe you,” “It’s not your fault,” “It’s not okay.”
- Respect confidentiality. All discussions must occur in private, without other family members present. This is essential to building trust and ensuring their safety.
- Believe and validate their experiences. Listen to them and believe them. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know they are not alone. Many people have similar experiences.
- Acknowledge the injustice…The violence perpetrated against them is not their fault. No one deserves to be abused.
- Respect their autonomy. Respect their right to make decisions in their life, when they are ready. They are the experts on their own life. Let them know you will be there for them when they are ready.
- Help them plan for future safety. What have they tried in the past to keep safe? Is it working? Do they have a place to go if they need to escape?
- Promote access to community services. Know the resources in your community.
WHY DO VICTIMS STAY? WHY DO THEY GO BACK?
- Fear – Resistance or complaints often provoke worse violence. Victims also fear being found and beaten again if they leave. They are afraid of their children being hurt and of losing custody. They believe that there is a lack of protection from authorities and legal process. There are also very few safe places that they can go.
- Emotional Dependency – Some victims become emotionally dependent upon the abuser because of their childhood experiences. They believe that they are weak, inferior, and don’t deserve better treatment. They have feelings of insecurity over potential independence and lack of emotional support. They are afraid of making major life changes. Only about 15% stay because they still love the abuser and a few stay because of the social stigma of divorce.
- Financial Dependence – Many times the abuser is the sole wage earner in the family. If the abuser is arrested, he/she may lose his job and not be able to pay child support. The victim fears that he/she will not be able to support their family on their own.
- Guilt – The abused victims often feel guilty because they think they may have provoked the abuse. They also feel guilt over the failure of their marriage. Family, cultural, and religious beliefs that disapprove of divorce or separation under any circumstances may also pile guilt upon the victim.
- Isolation – Very often victims are forced into isolation by their partner who is jealous of any support or emotional ties the victim may have outside the home. Therefore, victims often have few if any friends, very little support from relatives, little or no money, no car, and no phone. This imposed isolation causes lost social skills and a lack of knowledge about alternatives they might have.
- Embarrassment and Shame – Most victims feel degraded and worthless as well as ashamed about remaining in an abusive relationship. Many victims are embarrassed and ashamed about their perceived failure in their household roles (i.e. keeping a peaceful home). Society promotes these feelings by generally blaming the victim for causing or accepting the abuse and the impact it has on the children.
- Children – The victim might believe that the children need both a mother and a father in the home. They believe that a better life financially is more important than leaving. They fear that the children will be emotionally damaged if there is a divorce. Children are often used as leverage by the abuser as leverage to keep the victim in check.
- Hope – Abusive relationships aren’t abusive from the beginning. The offender was once charming and caring, at least in appearances. The victim may hope that if they change into the person the abuser wants them to be, or if the abuser keeps their promises and stops, then everything will work out. Unfortunately, these hopes rarely come true.
Many assume that if their partner is not physically abusing them, then they’re not being abused. That’s not necessarily true. You may be in a relationship which is draining something from you – you might not have recognized that your partner has eroded your self-esteem and happiness. Like other forms of violence in relationships, emotional abuse is based on power and control. The following are widely recognized as forms of emotional abuse:
- Rejecting– refusing to acknowledge a person’s presence, value or worth; communicating to a person that she or he is useless or inferior; devaluing her/his thoughts and feelings.
- Degrading– insulting, ridiculing, name calling, imitating and treated like an infant; behavior which diminishes the identity, dignity and self-worth of the person.
- Terrorizing– inducing terror or extreme fear in a person; coercing by intimidation; placing or threatening to place a person in an unfit or dangerous environment. They threaten to take the children.
- Isolating– physical confinement; restricting normal contact with others; limiting freedom within a person’s own environment.
- Corrupting/Exploiting– socializing a person into accepting ideas or behavior which oppose legal standards; using a person for advantage or profit; training a child to serve the interests of the abuser and not of the child.
- Denying Emotional Responsiveness– failing to provide care in a sensitive and responsive manner; being detached and uninvolved; interacting only when necessary; ignoring a person’s mental health needs.
- Spiritual – keeping victim from practicing their faith, or forcing them to join another faith.
HOW TO CONTACT A VICTIM: DO’S AND DON’TS
- If you are trying to help someone, do not leave text, email or voice messages with family members unless you know it is safe. If questioned by family members, do not indicate that you are calling about the domestic violence; rather, give an innocuous reason for the call.
- Always ask first if it is safe to talk and whether you should call the police. The batterer may be present, even if the batterer no longer lives in the same home. Develop a system of coded messages to signal danger or the batterer’s presence.
- Block identification of your number when calling by dialing *67 or the equivalent. This prevents a batterer from using “caller ID” to discover that the victim is seeking assistance.
- Keep the victim’s whereabouts confidential. Do not disclose addresses, telephone numbers, or information about the children without permission. Batterers often track down their former partners through third parties.
- Allow the person being abused to use your phone.
- Develop a referral list including the national domestic violence hotline, local shelters, domestic violence programs, batterers’ intervention programs, pro bono or sliding scale legal services, and children’s programs. Call (303)774-4534 for a list of Longmont non-emergency domestic violence resources.
Do you think you or someone you know needs a safety plan? Click here to find out about safety planning.