So, how does this apply to you or your friends? Consider the following:
- Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
- Pregnancy often increases emotional stress for both parents. Abuse often begins or increases during pregnancy, putting both the mom and her baby at risk.
- Studies show that there is a strong overlap between child abuse and wife abuse.
- A child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
Those facts suggest that a mom in your neighborhood, playgroup, or workplace might be a victim of domestic violence. Or perhaps you, yourself have or are currently experiencing domestic violence.
Many women living in abusive relationships minimize the abuse and may even believe they deserve nothing better. As you build relationships with women in your sphere of influence, consider the following definitions:
- Physical abuse — includes slapping, hitting, kicking, choking, grabbing, pinching, shoving, punching, etc. or the use of a weapon; it also includes being forced to do something that you don’t want to do.
- Sexual abuse — includes any forced sexual contact of any kind, undermining a person’s sexuality, unprotected sex, and rape in marriage.
- Verbal/emotional abuse — includes name-calling, insults, put-downs, threats, belittling, silent treatment, criticism, or other interactions that make you feel worthless or frightened.
- Psychological abuse — includes intimidation, isolation from family and friends, harassing and/or attempts to control your behavior. Destroying possessions or treasured objects, hitting walls, breaking doors, abusing and/or killing pets are acts of psychological domestic violence.
- Legal abuse — includes dragging out legal/ custody proceedings, refusing to pay support or alimony, withholding assets, and fighting for custody solely to maintain control.
- Financial abuse — includes withholding money, having to account for every penny, refusing to pay bills/creditors, no money of your own, not allowed to work.
The effects of abuse are serious. Domestic violence sufferers may report symptoms of isolation, depression, low self-esteem, physical illness, withdrawal, anger or rage, confusion or chronic fear. Without intervention, domestic violence can escalate in severity and frequency and can lead to serious injury or death.
As you interact with women who may be victims of domestic violence, or as you yourself seek help, the following list of “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” may be helpful.
- Believe her and encourage her to talk about the abuse, but don't pressure her to talk.
- Respect her need for confidentiality yet remind her that you are obligated to report abuse of children and will call for help if you believe she is in danger.
- Listen to her feelings and provide support without judgment.
- Let her know that she is not alone. Many women experience abuse.
- Reassure her that she is not to blame. No one has the right to act out in violence.
- Give her three clear messages:
- She can’t change her partner’s behavior.
- Apologies and promises will not end the violence.
- Violence is never justifiable.
- Her physical safety is the first priority. Help her make a safety plan for herself and her children.
- Give her the time and space she needs to make her own decisions.
- Abuse victims commonly make plans and fear carrying them out. If she is not ready to make major changes in her life, do not take away your support, but if you are concerned for her safety you might say:
- I am afraid for your safety.
- I am afraid for the safety of your children.
- It will only get worse. Violence increases in seriousness over time without some type of intervention.
- You deserve better than this. No one deserves to be treated this way.
- Provide her with information about local resources–the phone number of the local domestic violence hotline, support groups, counseling, shelter program, and legal advocacy services.
Those who experience abuse need support and encouragement, but some forms of advice can be harmful or dangerous.
- Tell her what to do, or when or if she should leave or not leave.
- Tell her to try a little harder and be a better wife.
- Rescue her by trying to make decisions for her.
- Offer to try to talk to her partner to straighten things out.
- Tell her she should stay because of the children.
Do’s and Don’t’s adapted from the Family Refuge Center, www.familyrefugecenter.com.
Remember, one in three women may be experiencing some type of domestic abuse. One of the greatest gifts they can receive from you is a referral to appropriate services, practical assistance, and emotional support.
Resources to combat domestic violence:
This article originally appeared in Connections magazine, January 2005, MOPS International, Inc.