If you are in immediate danger or feel unsafe, call 911.
What to Do. What to Say.
Step 1: Let them know that you are concerned.
Step 2: Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation.
Step 3: Be supportive. Listen to them. Remember that it may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen to them.
Step 4: Be non-judgmental. Respect their decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
Step 5: Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship.
Step 6: Help them to develop a safety plan.
Step 7: Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance, such as the YWCA (616.454.YWCA/ 616.454.9922).
Step 8: Remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately the person getting hurt has to be the one to decide. Your role is to support them and help them find a way to safety and peace.
Adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Click here for more tips from the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health.
What to Do If You See An Assault In Progress.
Step 1: Don’t Ignore Abuse. Survivors say that when no one acknowledged that they saw the abuse or tried to help, it made them feel even more isolated and alone. Domestic violence is a crime and should be reported just like any other.
Step 2: Keep Yourself Safe. These situations can be dangerous.
Step 3: Call 911 if you see or hear an assault in progress. If you are outside when you see a victim being assaulted on the street or in a car write down the car license number and/or the location of the assault and call the police.
Adapted from the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
How Victims Respond
Understanding why a victim is behaving in a certain way is often the key to debunking the myths that surround domestic abuse and finding effective ways of helping.
- Fear: They may be threatened with increased violence or death if they try to take action against their abuser. They may be threatened with or anticipate retribution against the children, their parents and friends, or harassment at their job. They may fear the future: loneliness, single parenting, loss of status and security of being married, loss of home, friends, they may believe that leaving the relationship and taking the children away from their other parent will be worse for them and their lifestyle.
- Economic Dependence: Two-thirds of custodial mothers receive no child support. Seventy seven percent of people living in poverty in this country are women and their children. Domestic violence is one of the largest causes of homelessness in our country. The dynamic of domestic violence often results in isolation for the victim. A victim who has depended on their abuser’s income may have no marketable job skills or be unable to maintain steady employment because of the assailant’s interference on the job. Victims often face having to survive on low-paying or minimum wage jobs, or public assistance.
- Self-Blame: “I haven’t tried hard enough.” “It must be my fault for how I acted.” This attitude may have several sources. Women tend to be socialized to be the giver, the caretaker, the peacemaker in relationships. Many of us are taught, directly or implicitly, that a good wife meets her husband’s needs and that her needs are secondary or less important. If something goes wrong it is the woman’s fault, the woman’s failure. This way of thinking is reinforced by the abuser who blames the victim for the abuse. “I hit you because…” The victim tries to alter their own behavior to avoid further violence, and thereby accepts responsibility for the violence when it recurs. “If I had only _______, he wouldn’t have hit me.”
- The Cycle of Violence or “It’s Not So Bad”: Victims are not constantly abused. There may be frequent periods of non-violence. Following a rise in tension and a violence attack, the batterer may try to manipulate the situation further by becoming apologetic and attentive. They are likely to promise that it will never happen again or, there may be no discussion of the violence for fear of disturbing the “calm” phase. In either case, the violence is likely to be minimized by both partners during this period, and it is likely to recur.
- Isolation: Abusive relationships are characterized by attempts of the abuser to control the behavior of the victim. Often there is severe jealousy and social control. The victim typically has few friends who are acceptable to their spouse/partner, and is often estranged from family as well. They may not have been allowed to work outside the home or their assailant may have consistently sabotaged their ability to maintain steady employment. This isolation may reinforce the feeling that they are the only person with this sort of problem and that there must be something wrong with them. The lack of a support system to provide emotional support also makes the prospect of leaving a relationship, even a bad one, very threatening.
- Hope for Change: The abusive partner may have been charming and attentive during the couple’s courtship and may retain these characteristics intermittently with their spouse/partner and more regularly with others outside the family. When their behavior at home becomes controlling and abusive, often right after marriage or during the first pregnancy, the victim may retain an image of a happier time and a strong hope that these times can return. They may confuse love for their spouse/partner with love for how they used to be.
- Abuser’s Emotional Dependence: A victim may fear that their spouse/partner will be unable to survive without them. The spouse/partner may threaten to kill themselves if the victim leaves. After trying to placate them and cater to their needs on a regular basis, a victim may find it difficult to act in a way that is in conflict with their spouse/partner’s best interest. Leaving an emotionally dependent spouse/partner is often described as being as difficult to contemplate as abandoning one’s needy child.
- Distrust of the “System”: Women of color and people of the LGBTQ community may not want to subject their spouse/partner or themselves to the criminal justice system, which seems to deal more harshly with minority individuals. Victims may have had repeated contact with police officers who intervened by asking the abuser to leave, cool off or walk around the block, reinforcing the victim’s belief that there is no outside help for their situation.