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Helping Someone Who is Being Abused
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, April 2009

You may or may not know that some of the people in your life may be facing violence at home. Whether you are a family member, a friend, or a colleague, you can help to halt the abuse. Domestic abuse is rarely a one-time event; it usually happens more often and gets worse.

It's impossible to know with certainty what goes on behind closed doors, but there are some telltale signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse that can help to alert you. If you witness a number of warning signs in a friend, family member, or co-worker, you can reasonably suspect domestic abuse.

Warning signs include: frequent injuries, with the excuse of "accidents;" frequent and sudden absences from work or school; frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner; fear of their partner, references to their partner's anger; personality changes; excessive fear of conflict; submissive behavior, lack of assertiveness; depression, crying, and low self-esteem.

You can help in a number of ways. Offer support, information and resources such as a fact-sheet from a local domestic violence program. Remember to respect that it is the person's decision about what, if anything, they will do next. In this way you help the person you care about put control of their life back in their own hands and not in the hands of the abuser.

Another way you can help is to focus on this person's strengths. Often the victim of domestic abuse is continually told that he or she is a bad person, stupid, useless, incapable of doing anything right. Told this often enough, they begin to believe it. Give them emotional support by verbalizing what you like about them. Emphasize that they have a right to have a life free from fear, intimidation, violence or abuse.

Finally, help this person devise a safety plan. Let them know that help is available. They may decide to remain in the violent relationship or return to the abuser after a temporary separation, which is not unusual. Do not pressure them to leave, but let them know that you fear for their safety and that of their children. See if you can help this person consider how dangerous the violence may be. Help them develop a plan of action for when the abuse happens again. Encourage them to: keep a list of people to call at the next occurrence and prepare a hidden, packed bag with clothes and copies of important documents, cash, and the address of a shelter.

If you suspect domestic violence, gently find a way to help. Everyone deserves a life with safety respect.

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