Domestic violence (battering) is a pattern of abusive and coercive behavior used to gain power and control over an intimate partner, former partner or family member. Domestic violence perpetrators (batterers) use a variety of legal and illegal tactics to establish a system of dominance known as power and control. For more information on the Power & Control Wheel, click here.
Domestic violence affects all communities, socio-economic levels and sexual orientations. The Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many academic leaders have identified domestic violence as a major criminal justice, health care and social issue.
According to the National Institute for Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women are at significantly greater risk of domestic violence than men.
Do you suspect that a woman you know is being emotionally or physically abused? If you can answer yes to some of the following questions, it is likely that you are right.
- Do you see or hear about repeated bruises, broken bones or other injuries? Does she say they are the results of "falls" or "accidents"?
- In warm weather, does she sometimes wear inappropriate clothes with long sleeves, turtlenecks or neck scarves? Does she sometimes wear unusually heavy makeup, or at inappropriate times, hats, head scarves or sunglasses?
- Does her partner criticize her in front of you, or make "joking" remarks that belittle her?
- Is her partner overly jealous, "attentive" or demanding of her time?
- When you leave a message for her with her partner, does she get the message?
- Are you ever afraid of her partner?
- Does she refer to his bad moods, anger, temper or short fuse?
- Does he ignore the children or abuse them emotionally, physically or sexually?
- Have there been suicide or homicide attempts or threats in this family?
- Is her partner accusing her of having affairs with other people?
- Does her partner try to control her every move? Must she account for her time?
- Does she speak of her partner as though he is far more important than she is?
- Is she often late or absent from work, or has she quit her job altogether?
- Does she break appointments at the last minute or fail to show up?
The hardest part about talking to a friend or family member who is being battered is getting started. Many women will be eager to talk, if they feel safe. You can help a woman by keeping her story confidential. While you might feel that it would be helpful to tell others about her situation, telling others can in fact put her and her children in serious danger. Additionally, while you may want to tell her to leave, leaving is often the most dangerous time in a violent relationship.
When she tells her story, listen attentively. Don't blame her for the abuse. Don't interrupt. Don't let your facial expression or body language convey doubt or judgement of what she is saying. Your support and belief in her may be critical in her safety and healing.
Remember: If she refuses to talk to you, she has her reasons. Express your concern for her anyway. Tell her that emotional, physical and sexual abuse are wrong and that she deserves better. Assure her that you will be ready to talk or help, if she asks.
Seek out a private, quiet place to begin talking. Allow plenty of time to talk at length; you may be the first person that she has told about the abuse. Any of the following questions might help get the conversation going:
- You seem so unhappy. Do you want to talk about it? I'd like to listen and I'll keep it between us.
- I couldn't help but hear your argument last night, and I was worried about you. Are you okay? Were you hurt?
- What is it like at home for you?
- What happens when you or your partner disagree or argue?
- How does your partner handle things when he doesn't get his way?
- Are you ever scared of your partner? Does he threaten you?
- Does he ever follow you? Do you have to account to him for your time?
- Does he ever prevent you from doing things you want to do?
- Is he jealous, hard to please, irritable, demanding, and critical?
- Does he ever push you around or hit you?
- Does he ever put you down, call you names, yell at you, or punish you in any way?
- Does he ever make you have sex? Does he ever make you do sexual things that you don't like?
- Believe her.
- Acknowledge the courage she showed in talking to you. She has taken a risk in confiding in you.
- Let her know that you consider her feelings of fear, confusion, anger, sadness, guilt, numbness, helplessness or hopelessness are reasonable and normal.
- Avoid treating her like a child or helpless victim.
- Respect her pace and be patient.
- Support the decisions she makes for herself. Help her make plans, but let her make the decisions.
- Educate yourself about the dynamics of domestic violence.
- Explain that domestic violence is a crime and that she can seek protection from the criminal justice system.
- Explain that she and her children have a right to safety and happiness.
- Make sure she knows that she is not alone, that millions of Americans from every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group suffer from abuse, and that many women find it difficult to leave.
- Emphasize that when she is ready, she can make a choice to leave the relationship and that there is help available.
- Provide her with information about local resources: the phone number of the local domestic violence hotline, support groups, counseling, shelter programs and legal advocacy.
- If she wants to go to an agency or domestic violence program, volunteer to go with her.
- If she is in immediate danger, call the police.
- If you see or hear and assault in progress, call the police. These assaults are often dangerous to outsiders; do not intervene yourself.
- She may need financial assistance, help finding a place to live, a place to store her belongings, or help in caring for pets. She may need assistance to escape. Decide if you feel comfortable helping her out in these ways.
- If she remains in the relationship, continue to be her friend while at the same time firmly communicating to her that she and her children do not deserve to be treated abusively.
- With her permission, enlist other friends, family or co-workers to help with child care or go along to court.