Over the years I have worked with many victims of domestic violence. Some of them have been complete strangers, some have been family members. Some have been neighbors, some have been on the other side of the world. Some have been men, some women, some black, some white, some old, and some young. Regardless of that, the emotions, the feelings, the dynamics of their abusive relationships have been the same. The details may vary, but the dynamics never do.
And the other thing that doesn’t vary is the impact the abusive relationship has on everyone else around the victim, and the abuser.
As my work in DV awareness has grown and expanded, I often find myself working with the friends and families of the victims. It’s terribly hard for a mother to stand down as she watches her daughter being treated disrespectfully. A dad wants to take action when he sees bruises on his daughters’ legs, arms or throat from an abusive partner. A best friend is so weary of hearing her friend’s stories of horror and mental manipulation and wonders why she just doesn’t leave. But most people aren’t equipped to know what to do. How do you help a victim of domestic violence?
I’m so glad you asked!
I will go over several points here, but if you would like more information, please contact me through my website – PJLambert.com and I can email to you the do’s and don’ts of dealing with a victim.
The number one thing you can do for a victim is listen without judging. Most victims don’t reveal anything about the abuse until it has gotten pretty bad. Which means that what they are telling you is a very small, washed down portion of what is really going on. They may be telling you about what just happened that made them open up, but it could have been going on for weeks, months, maybe even years.
The number one thing you shouldn’t do for a victim is offer advice. The dynamics of an abusive relationship are completely different from a normal one, so unless you have been a victim, you can’t know what it’s like. You can’t give the same advice to a DV victim as you can to your friend who just had a quarrel with their partner or is going through a rough patch in their marriage. If they ask you for advice, give them options instead and let them think about it. Most victims have been told what to do for so long, they can hardly think for themselves. But if you give them options and they choose what to do, it will give them back a bit of their self-worth. If you start bossing them around, you are doing the same thing their abuser does.
If they haven’t yet left the abusive relationship, offer to help them. This can be helping to move their possessions, finding a place to stay, or keeping their pets for them for a while. If they can’t stay with you, perhaps offer to pay for them to stay in a motel until they get a place to stay. Or help them find a shelter for abuse victims. Offer transportation if they don’t have any or even to watch the kids for a while so they can make arrangements. Offer to hold money for them if they are saving up to leave and don’t have a safe place to keep it where the abuser won’t find it. Or go with them to open their own checking or savings account, so when they do decide to leave, they will have funds to start their new life. (Make sure they aren’t sending the new account correspondence to their home address or an email address to which the abuser has access…which may mean also setting up a post office address.)
The most important thing to realize when dealing with a victim is that they have been through a lot. They are broken and exhausted. If they seem distracted, have a hard time concentrating on one thing, feel overwhelmed…it’s because their mind has been twisted by the abuser and they are exactly those things…overwhelmed, distracted, and stressed. They need genuine encouragement, someone they can trust and depend on and someone who will listen, even if you have heard the same thing over and over again until you want to scream. As they tell you, they are hearing it, their mind is sorting it, and they are working through it. Be a sounding board, a caring and compassionate, safe place for them to vent, to cry and to begin to heal. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is the most important thing you can do for them.
For more information, contact me through my website or email at contact@PJLambert.com and I’ll be happy to send it to you.