October, is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am sharing some of my story so that you may know, and in knowing, help get the message out.
My best friend came up behind me, as I sat, talking with our pastor. I started crying again, and as she tried to comfort me, she got a handful of my hair. I couldn’t immediately see her face, but I knew it was shocked. She had no idea. I never told her, I was an expert at my secret.
It was the aftermath of yet another act of violence, fortunately it was the beginning of getting free.
This night was set in motion several months ago by a women at my church who knew. She didn’t do anything but speak it out loud, quietly to me one day. All she said was, “He did this to you.” Of course I denied it, I stuck to my story; I ran into the door and my glasses cut my face. But she planted the seed. Someone knew. She said that she would be there for me when I was ready. I wasn’t. But someone knew.
My escape from abuse became real as I made a shift from thinking it was all in my own head, to knowing that someone knew.
How is it that my very best friend in the world had no idea, but a random lady at church could recognize it in a second? She had been there, through it, and escaped herself. It makes you sensitive. But this is not necessary. I don’t blame my best friend for not knowing, it wasn’t talked about much then in our community. In fact it was just coming to light. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) wasn’t signed until later that year, Nicole Simpson hadn’t been murdered, actions were in motion, it was just slow in coming.
Forward twenty years or so, and there is more public eye on the issue, yet still, 1 in 4 women will be subjected to abuse in her life time. Major league teams have rules, there are initiatives in the work place, Web sites, awareness months and laws that didn’t exist when I was escaping. But the statistics are still very ugly. All the laws and initiatives in the world won’t make domestic violence go away, it takes people who know.
You probably know someone who is caught in domestic violence. Here are the top 5 ways I have found for helping a friend who is caught in domestic violence escape.
- Know the resources and contact information in your community and church. Keep them handy.
- Be cautious when communicating with phone calls, messages, emails or pamphlets. More than likely, they are being monitored. Abuse is about control and if the abuser thinks they will be found out, they will usually escalate the control and the abuse.
- Ask outright when you have the opportunity. Talk in small groups or one on one about hard questions. How is your relationship? Do you feel safe at home? Can I help you? Let them know you are available. I tend to ere on the side of making a mistake and apologizing if I’m wrong when things seem off kilter. I will be forever grateful for someone speaking to me.
- Don’t preach or tell them what you think they need to do. Remind them how precious they are and that no one deserves to be abused. Ever. It is not their fault. Be their friend, be there for them.
- Be ready when they are ready. Help make them make a plan. It took months after the ladies pronouncement for me to get enough courage to leave, and I had to leave several times until I finally understood he wasn’t changing. Your friend may not feel she can leave. Threats about who will get the children, withholding of financial resources and emotional abuse will make it seem impossible to escape without consequences.
I had five dollars in my purse the night I left with two small children, my abuser had a hint that I was standing up and had taken my access to bank accounts and credit cards away. I know now that there was a shelter in our area, had I known then, I might have had the courage to leave sooner.
My best friend, the one with a handful of my hair, became my best advocate. Her and her husband took us in for a few days, until I could get my head on straight and make some tough decisions. She supported me through the difficult times that I had to work through. Depending on the circumstances, this may not be the best idea, shelters have security measures in place that may be needed and community resources to advocate for the victim and children. Some I have read, will even take the family pet. But be ready to help to the best of your abilities.
The most important thing for victims of domestic violence is that someone knows and is there for them. Be There. Know.