Do you suspect that someone you know is the victim of domestic violence?
It’s never easy seeing someone get hurt. When you suspect a person is the victim of domestic violence, you will likely have a lot of feelings. Anger towards the abuser, despair for the victim, shock at the situation, and the overwhelming need to do something. But, you know that taking action could potentially be dangerous for your loved one as well as yourself…so, how do you proceed?
Don’t Ignore It.
Domestic violence carries so much stigma, but it’s critical that if you suspect that a person is a victim or an abuser you don’t turn away. It may be incredibly uncomfortable, but there are conversations that need to be had and support provided to the victim. Too often, people choose to overlook abuse because the abuser is someone they know or because it’s more comfortable for them to believe the victim when they say that nothing is wrong.
When it comes to the subject of domestic violence, it’s a time to sit with your discomfort. Because as uncomfortable as it is for you, it’s so much worse for the victim…and could even be fatal.
You will likely have the urge to push the victim to speak out and take action. It’s very important that you provide support without judgment or pressure, as both of these things will cause distrust in them and will push them away.
Be patient, and let the victim know that you are someone they can safely talk to. If possible, don’t push them for information before they are ready to give it, and validate their experience. As many emotions as you may be feeling in this moment, they are experiencing much worse; especially since it’s likely that they will have experienced mental abuse like gaslighting, making them doubt themselves. Be a reassuring presence for them; this is not about you.
Provide A Safe Space.
Believe the victim when they finally are able to open up about what they are experiencing. What you hear may be painful and shocking, especially if you know their abuser, but it is important that you validate their experience. If they are coming to you, they are likely ready to start looking for a way out.
Provide a safe space for the victim to share what is happening and talk through the next steps. It isn’t always as easy as packing a bag and leaving, and one misstep could have very dangerous consequences for them. Make sure that they know that, when the time comes, you’re going to be there to support them however you possibly can. This can provide comfort and strength.
Don’t Let Them Withdraw/Isolate.
A common tactic used by abusers is to isolate their victims. Little by little, the abuser will persuade or force their target to cut off contact with people who care about them and who are valuable to them. By isolating the victim, the abuser can create a narrative that they are the only person that the victim can trust and rely on, or even that they are the only one that cares for their victim at all.
If you notice someone withdrawing from their social circle, it’s a big red flag. There could be a mental health issue that they are struggling with, or they could be going through domestic violence. Either way, it’s important to not give up on them and continue to reach out and provide support, even when they are pushing you away. Have a routine check-in, so that if they miss it you know that they are in need of emergency intervention.
Watch For Warning Signs, And Document Them.
One way you can help your loved one is by observing them for warning signs of abuse and keeping clear documentation with dates, times, and detailed information about what you have observed. This could prove critical later when they are ready to press charges and seek a protective order against their abuser.
Make specific notes of any physical marks visible on the person, as well as any psychological impact and behavioral changes. If the person is aware you are keeping this record, it would also be beneficial to have images of the injuries that are dated and timestamped to provide physical evidence of the abuse. This kind of record is likely something the victim is afraid to keep themselves, as the risk of the abuser finding the documentation could endanger them.
Help With Resources and a Safety Plan.
Experiencing domestic violence is overwhelming. Often, the person feels hopeless and lost, unsure where or how to get started looking for a way out.
Collect local and national resources for them. If possible, provide them with a safe place to stay and assist with their financial burden to make it easier for them to find a way out. Help them construct a safety plan to lower the risk of being hurt by their abuser. Do research on protective orders and other legal assistance. Provide a safe place for them to keep a bag of necessities, and to store what cash they can get to create an escape fund.
Call the Police When Necessary.
If you are witness to physical abuse, if you hear or see it taking place, call 911 IMMEDIATELY. If the person misses a check-in and you are concerned for their well-being, if you know that abuse is actively happening, it’s time to get the police involved. And if children are being abused, it is time to call Protective Services.
Even if it goes against the wishes of the victim or the abuser, active domestic violence should never be overlooked and needs to be reported right away. You could save a life, and that is of more importance than their feelings.
Even though your first impulse on learning about a domestic violence situation may be to “save” the person being abused, the decision of if and when they leave and get help needs to be their own. If you push them, you could take away the one safe place they have left: you. Keep this in mind and provide love and support for the person, and they will be able to make the decision when they are able to do so.
The team at Punk Rock Saves Lives understands how nuanced domestic violence can be. We are here to provide you with resources and support where we can, but we are not professionals trained for domestic violence response.
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse, please seek help! Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE), text them “START” at 88788, or chat online now for free, confidential, 24/7 support, and/or please call 911 for local emergency services.