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Domestic violence: Lending a helping hand

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Something dark and disturbing lurks in too many homes across America. It's domestic violence and it kills. The reality is that untold numbers of women (and men) exist in relationships that are far more frightening than any book or movie could depict.

Victim of Domestic Violence

It is your business

We grew up believing that the property line dividing one home from the next was sacred and what happened on the other side was none of our business. However, when neighbors witness blood-curdling screams, threats being shouted, and/or the sound of glass smashing that line must disappear.

It's so easy to sit back in the comfort of our safe homes where no such behavior exists and exclaim that if the victim wants the abuse to stop, the victim should pick up the phone and dial 911. Oh, how logical we've become. Of course she should, but she won't or she can't.

Domestic violence facts

If you (hopefully) haven't been a victim of domestic violence, you may be surprised to learn:

  • Domestic violence crosses every social, economic, and racial line
  • An abuser desires to manipulate, control, and dominate
  • Not only are children witnesses, they often become victims
  • There are more animal protection shelters -- a staggering three to four times as many -- than there are shelter/safe havens for victims of domestic abuse
  • The victim usually genuinely loves the abusing partner and only wants law enforcement to break up the fight, not haul the partner away
  • The victim may fear retaliation
  • The victim worries that if the partner is taken away will she be able feed the children while the bread-winner's in jail
  • The victim has been psychologically programmed to believe she is at fault

Battered women need support

For the reasons listed above, more than 90 percent of battered women do not discuss their world even with their personal doctor. They avoid emergency rooms, and when they must go due to the seriousness of their injuries, they often lie about what happened. It takes a third party to step up and befriend the victim. This does not mean that upon hearing the cries of your neighbor you race to your closet like a crude suburban Cat Woman, don your cape and leotards and prepare to pounce between the big bad guy and his partner. The very first step is to make yourself available.

How can you help a victim of domestic violence?

Chat at the mailbox instead of hurriedly coming and going. Invite her over for iced tea or share gardening tips when you see her busying about in her flowerbed. In other words, find a way to interact. It will take time to gain her trust so don't be disappointed if she turns down your offers of friendship. Remember that she's trying to keep the inner workings of her home away from "unfriendly" eyes. Your opinion of her and her children and her spouse very much matter.

Listen without judgement

Once you do break through, it's important to just listen. Listening without condemning her validates her importance as a person. Build her trust in you by committing to the friendship, because one day she will open up and ask for help. This does not mean you gas up the mini van and whisk her and her three children away in the dark of the night. Leave the drama for television and the silver screen.

Encourage professional support

Know the contact information for local shelters, church support groups, national help lines such as RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network). This organization operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-HOPE (4673) and can offer support with assault-related issues. The RAINN.org web site is an excellent source of information for friends and victims. Share this information with her when she opens the door for help.

If you are a victim of domestic violence

Getting help through counseling may save a life, a marriage and keep the violence from perpetuating to yet another generation. It means understanding that the abused person matters, is unique, and significant. It means discovering that life doesn't have to be a roller coaster ride or an eggshell walk. It doesn't have to be the end of a relationship but rather the beginning of a healthy one.

And, finally, should the abuser not wish to take part in changing his behavior by learning new coping skills, then getting help means moving on because you were not created to be anyone's doormat or punching bag. For your sake and the sake of any children caught in the violence, it is time to shift from being a victim to becoming a survivor.

If you're reading this and you suffer at the hands of your partner, it's time to take the first step and find someone to talk to about your hidden world. You are not alone and help is truly just a conversation away.

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