What You Can Do
You may be an important part of a woman’s journey to safety. For many women, it takes a lot of time, planning, help, and courage to escape the violence. In the meantime, it is important for women to know that help is available from people who know and care about the situation.
• Lend a listening ear without judging. Tell your friend that you care and are willing to listen. If she is willing to talk, listen carefully and empathetically, in a safe place. Believe her. Never blame her for what’s happening or underestimate her fear of danger. Let her know that no one deserves to be abused, beaten, or threatened.
• Allow her to make her own decisions. As you listen, try to understand the many obstacles that keep her from getting free. It’s usually very complex. Focus on supporting her in making her own decisions. If she is being battered, he is exercising a lot of control over her life. Making choices for herself—even if it is staying with the abuser for now—is often the first step towards freedom. Even if she leaves him and then goes back, don’t withdraw your support. Many battered women leave and return several times before leaving him for good.
• Guide her to community services. Many abused women who found freedom describe someone they knew (a neighbor, doctor, friend) offering support and referring them to an advocacy group. Gather information about domestic violence programs in your area that offer safety,
advocacy, support, legal information, and other services. If she asks for advice on what to do, share the information you’ve gathered with her privately. Let her know she is not alone and that people are available to help her. Assure her that they will keep information about her confidential. Many women first seek the advice of marriage counselors, psychiatrists or members of the clergy. Not all helping professionals, however, are fully aware of the special circumstances of abused women. If the first person she contacts is not helpful, encourage her to look elsewhere.
• Focus on her strengths. Abused women live with emotional as well as physical abuse. The abuser probably continually tells your friend that she is a bad woman, bad wife, and bad mother. She may believe she can’t do anything right and that there really is something wrong with her. Give her emotional support and help her believe she is a good person. Help her examine her strengths and skills. Emphasize that she deserves a life that is free from violence.
• Help her make a safety plan. Your friend may decide to remain in the violent relationship or return to the abuser after a temporary separation. Do not pressure her to leave, but let her know that you are afraid for her and her children and help her consider how dangerous the violence may be. Encourage her to keep a log of what’s happening to her or tell her doctor or nurse about the violence. Help her think about steps she can take if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people to call in an emergency. Suggest she hide a suitcase of clothing, money, social security cards, bankbooks, birth certificates, and school records for future emergencies. Acknowledge that she may be in the most danger while she’s trying to leave.
• Help find a safe place. Help your friend contact the local battered women’s program. They can help her examine her options and find a safe place to go. Not all communities have safe shelter and sometimes they’re full, so she may need to rely on family or friends for temporary housing. Be careful if you offer safety in your home. A battered woman frequently faces the most danger when she tries to flee and you could face threats and harm from her abuser.
• If you see an assault in progress, take action: Find the nearest phone and call 911. Don’t assume that someone else has done so. If you are in your car, honk your horn until a group gathers, he stops hitting her, or the police come. These situations can be dangerous, so whatever you do, be sure to keep yourself safe. But do take action. At the very least, watch them. By being a witness in a way that lets him know that you see him, you may reduce the level of violence.
What You Can Do