We All Have a Role in Ending Domestic Violence
You can play an important role in helping a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member that is being abused by an intimate partner or somebody they are dating. Learn the facts about domestic violence and ways you can help or support a friend.
Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse in which one partner in an intimate relationship attempts to take power and control over another. Domestic violence can occur in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships, and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating. It can happen to cisgender and transgender partners as well. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical, verbal, financial, and sexual abuse. One in three women and one in four men experience domestic violence in their lifetime. (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf). For more statistics and facts about domestic violence, please visit http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics.
Recognizing the signs of domestic violence is the first step to intervention. If you notice any of the following signs, it could be an indicator that your friend is in an abusive relationship. If they:
- Seem to be under emotional distress, depressed, feeling self-doubt or shame
- Seem isolated, unusually quiet, or anxious around family or friends
- Have unexplained bruises and/or injuries
- Act differently or strangely in social situations, at work, or at school
- Wear unseasonable clothing, like long sleeves in the summer
- Give explanations that don’t add up
- Are often tardy or miss work or school, or frequently cancel plans
- Receive disruptive and excessive phone calls, texts, emails, or frequent visits from a partner
- Act fearful around their partner
- Have a partner who is emotionally abusive, and belittles and insults them in front of other people
- Have a partner who is extremely controlling (socially, financially, or over appearance)
Listen and Remain Supportive. Tell your friend/family member that you care and are willing to listen. Do not force them to talk about anything they don’t want to talk about, but allow them to confide in you at their own pace. Assure them that it is not their fault and they should never be treated that way. Take your friend’s concerns seriously. Honor the need for confidentiality unless there is immediate danger. Always respect their choices and avoid judgement.
Focus on His/Her Strengths. Your friend or family member has probably been continuously told by their abuser that s/he is to blame for their abuse and may not feel very good about themselves. Your friend will be in need of emotional support and a reminder that they are worth it. Emphasize the fact that they deserve a life free from violence and remind them of all of their valuable strengths and skills.
Connect to Resources. Guide your friend to resources and encourage them to get help. There are many organizations that provide free, confidential help. Visit the leapsf.org page and click on San Francisco Resources to get a list of local resources and offer it to your friend as a guide. Don’t make decisions for your friend. The local 24 hour confidential hotline number in San Francisco is 1-877-384-3578. The National Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233. These numbers are good places to start.
Make a Plan. Help your friend figure out a way to stay safe, whether or not they are ready to leave the relationship. Offer to let your friend use your phone or computer if they are afraid of being tracked by their abuser. Domestic violence advocates or hotlines can also be a good resource for helping create this safety plan.
Take Action. If you sense that your friend is in immediate danger, don’t be afraid to take action. Figure out with your friend what works best in their situation and help them stay safe. Remember that domestic violence is a crime and call 911 if you sense a threat of immediate danger.
Consider visiting this link at Loveisrespect.org to take a quiz on how to help a friend in need. Loveisrespect.org also has additional quizzes and links for those affected by domestic violence, their friends and family, and bystanders.
Call out a Friend/Family Member Who is Being Abusive. Unless there is an immediate threat to your health or safety by intervening with an abusive friend, tell them very clearly that his/her behavior is not okay. Be sure to let them know that you will be supportive in their efforts to change, but you will not support abusive behavior. Encourage them to get help, and be a role model for healthy relationships.
If you are still worried about what to say to help or how to talk to a friend or family member who is being abusive to their partner, please visit La Casa De Las Madres's website. For specific bystander scenarios, visit nomore.org/take-action/preventviolence.
For a longer list of strategies you can use to help friends and family, take a look at these tips from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at ncadv.org.
- “Step Up, The Intervention Initiative”: Students encouraging bystanders to take initiative and help prevent domestic violence
- “Leslie Morgan Steiner: Why domestic violence victims don’t leave” : Ted Talk featuring Leslie Morgan Steiner, who shares her experience of domestic violence and why it can be difficult for survivors to leave their abusive partner.
- "Jackson Katz:Violence against Women: It's a Men's Issue": Ted Talk featuring Jackson Katz, who speaks to bystander intervention and engaging men to be leaders in ending gender based violence.
- Domestic Violence (Spanish): Short film made my Mexican Consulate in San Francisco.
- Domestic Violence Educational Video from Gateway Shelter: Documents survivors of various backgrounds and their decision to find help from a domestic violence shelter.
- Domestic Violence Survivor: A woman tells her story of surviving an abusive relationship.
- “Domestic Violence: Living in Fear”: This long documentary report based out of Tennessee documents survivors, perpetrators, and witnesses of domestic violence in depth.
- “Understanding and Addressing LGBT Domestic Violence” (skip to 9:00) : National experts on LGBT domestic violence provide practical information to better understand the experience of LGBT domestic violence survivors.
- Relationship Abuse, Texts: Shows a text conversation documenting emotional abuse.
- LGBT Survivor Testimony: A man speaks about his experience as a survivor of domestic violence
If you want to speak up about ending domestic violence through bystander intervention, please download and print out these postcards and stickers, or post these images on social media. Here are the tools to get you started:
Sometimes, it may be hard for someone to speak up when they fear someone may be in an abusive relationship. Here are some of the reasons people may not want to intervene, courtesy of “Helping The Battered Woman, A Guide For Family And Friends,” a 1989 publication of the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project,
The violence can’t really be that serious. Dating violence includes threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It is rarely a one-time occurrence and usually escalates in frequency and severity. Even if the violence is “only” verbal, it can seriously affect the victim’s health and well-being, so any act of dating violence is something to take seriously.
My friend must be doing something to provoke the violence. A victim of intimate partner violence is never to blame for another person’s choice to use violence against her/him. Problems exist in any relationship, but the use of violence is never acceptable.
If it’s so bad, why doesn’t s/he just leave? For most of us, a decision to end a relationship is not easy. Your friend’s emotional ties to her/his partner may be strong, supporting the hope that the violence will end. Perhaps your friend doesn’t know about available resources or maybe social and justice systems have been unhelpful in the past. Perhaps when your friend has tried to end the relationship in the past, her/his partner may have used violence or threats to stop her/him. These are just some of the many compelling reasons that may keep someone in an abusive relationship.
I shouldn’t get involved in a private matter. Domestic violence is not a “personal problem." It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, your friend’s partner, your campus, your workplace, and your entire community.
I know the abusive person and I really don’t think s/he could hurt anyone. Many abusers are not violent in other relationships and can be charming in social situations, yet be extremely violent in private.
The abusive person must be sick. Using violence and abuse is a learned behavior, not a mental illness. People who use violence and abuse to control their partners choose such behavior. Viewing them as “sick” wrongly excuses them from taking responsibility for it.
I think the abusive person has a drinking problem. Could that be the cause of violence? Alcohol or drug use may intensify violent behavior, but it does not cause violence or abuse. People who engage in abusive behavior typically make excuses for their violence, claiming a loss of control due to alcohol/drug use or extreme stress. Acting abusively, however, does not represent a loss of control, but a way of achieving it.
How can my friend still care for someone who abuses her/him? Chances are, the abuser is not always abusive. S/he may show remorse for the violence after it happens and promise to change. Your friend may understandably hope for such changes. Their relationship probably involves good times, bad times, and in-between times.
If my friend wanted my help, s/he would ask for it. Your friend may not feel comfortable confiding in you, feeling you may not understand her/his situation. Talk to her/him about the abusive behaviors you have noticed, tell your friend no one deserves to be treated in that way, and ask her/him how you can help.