Margaret was a respected physician in her community with a successful practice, numerous accolades for her work, and patients who loved her empathetic demeanor. Yet, despite her accomplishments, she had a personal secret that she covered up under her clothing, her bruises. It wasn’t too long after the wedding that her husband began hitting her. Ashamed, embarrassed, and unsure of how to leave, Margaret remained. Her husband was likewise a respected physician in the community and no one but her knew about the abuse. And she was afraid that no one would believe her.
Likewise, Matt often stayed late at work to avoid coming home. He learned that if he worked long enough, his wife would drink herself to sleep and he could avoid the alcoholic rages that often escalated into physical violence. To cover up the marks she made on his body, he began taking a martial arts class so he could blame the class and no one would be the wiser. He often thought of how to escape the marriage, but she would attempt suicide to manipulate him into remaining.
Neither Margaret or Matt fit into the stereotypical domestic violence victim role. This is precisely why domestic abuse is still so prevalent today. Many victims are so ashamed of what is happening to them that they remain too long. They also have a tendency to believe that their abuser will get better if they just wait long enough. So one month turns into a year and a year turns into several. The hardest part of being a domestic abuse victim is feeling alone with no one who understands or shows support. Most victims are met with judgment and condemnation which intensifies the isolation. Here are 13 ways you can show support to a victim.
- Be available. Most people don’t like getting phone calls after 10 pm. But abuse doesn’t work on a convenient timetable. Being available 24/7 to a victim is like giving them a lifeline and lets them know that they have someone to reach out to in an emergency.
- Be observant. Many victims have abuse fog. They conveniently forget the abusive situations and remember the positive interactions instead. This is a natural survival defense mechanism. A supportive friend remembers the abuse without reminding the victim too often.
- Don’t judge. Even intelligent, beautiful, talented, and resourceful people can fall into an abusive relationship. This is not a sign of weakness. Many abusive people are clever enough to surround the abuse with praise and support. It can be very confusing for the victim.
- Don’t ask why. While in the middle of an abusive relationship, this is not the time for reflection and understanding as to how a person got here. Rather, all energy needs to be placed on finding a way out of the situation.
- Agree as much as possible. The last thing a victim need is to be fighting with others outside of the abusive relationship. While it is never appropriate to agree with abusive behavior, finding other things to agree on will help the victim feel stable.
- Provide secret resources. Offer to open a joint bank account so funds can be placed in it for the victim to use as needed. Financial limitations are often the primary reason a victim stays too long. Finding a professional counselor is another way to help the victim.
- Be encouraging. Abusive people tear their victims to shreds, then they talk about how great the victim is, and then treat them badly. This push-pull tactic is very effective in generating confusion in the victim. The best counteract is to be consistently and persistently encouraging.
- Be patient. All too often victims leave their abuser and then return back and leave again. Being patient during this time is very difficult but necessary to show unconditional support and love for the victim. The lack of patience from the abuser will be a stark contrast.
- Formulate secret plans. Part of helping a victim of domestic abuse is to give them a way out. Stash a suitcase of toiletries and some clothing for whenever they decide to leave. Decide on a safe person to help and a safe place to stay in advance of any departure.
- Be willing to listen. Victims often feel very isolated and judged by others. The feel like a bird in a cage where everyone is watching them but they have no privacy or way out of the situation. Listening to them without judgment is difficult but this is what they need the most.
- Know the laws. In every country and state, there are laws about domestic violence. Do the research for the victim and find out the procedures for pressing charges, filing a restraining order, and even the laws surrounding stalking charges. Have all the information available for the victim when they need it.
- Provide a safe place. The ideal safe place is one that the abuser cannot easily find the victim. Friends of friends’ homes, domestic violence shelters, and even hotel or rental units are recommended. Just make sure that nothing is placed in the victim’s name.
- Support the escape. This is more than financially supporting the victim, it also entails mentally and emotionally supporting the victim. All too often, victims return to their abuser because they feel like no one else will help them.
Sadly, it often takes a couple of years for a victim to leave. With the help of a supportive friend and therapist, Margaret and Matt were able to leave and recover from their abuse. Both of them are doing well today and in thriving relationships.