How many times have you seen or heard something like this?
"I'm fairly certain that my friend/neighbor/self may be getting hurt by his/her partner/loved one. I've heard noises/seen bruises/been scared. I'm concerned but I don't want to get involved/call the cops/put myself at risk/be wrong about what's happening. What should I do?"
Comments or posts like this tend to draw a flurry of urgent, firm instructions from well-meaning folks. We're encouraged by the level of responsiveness we've seen, and we hope that offering some education and some advice to our readers will empower some of you to better support your friends, neighbors, loved ones, and selves who are coping with intimate partner violence.
Note: we prefer the term Intimate Partner Violence or IPV over Domestic Violence, because dangerous relationships can occur in any setting- whether the partners live together or not. We also refer to people who have been hurt by loved ones as survivors, not victims.
Here's what you can do:
Know about the resources in your area, and how they work. This may take a bit of legwork- for good reason, many shelters do not have much of a web or social media presence, and do not publish their address. Calling a local or national 800-number for survivors of violence (Such as RAINN) will connect you with counselors who are trained to help identify and locate appropriate resources. Other options include staff at local faith communities, women's organizations such as NOW chapters, or even a liason unit at the police station. It's a good idea to know where to go for help so that you're ready to offer immediate, practical support to someone who needs it.
Educate yourself about IPV. Learn the warning signs and get some info about what you can and cannot do for a person that you're concerned about. Generally, it's much more complicated than "call the cops" or "dump his ass."
Listen. If you're able to do so, listen to the survivor without judging or telling him/her what to do. Supporting a friend who is struggling with ongoing threats or violence can be an incredibly painful experience, and it's tempting to try and jump in to offer solutions or help her problem solve. Don't go in there half-cocked, though- bone up those support skills, first. What would Oprah do? Get informed here.
Get support for yourself. If someone close to you is being hurt, hearing about it or just knowing about it can take an emotional toll. Even a single occasion of hearing your neighbors' intense fighting can be scary or upsetting, and it's worth it to contact an organization or professional in your community to talk about it. Do some self-care like yoga or blogging- before you're so overwhelmed you can't remember to take care of yourself. You will be better able to support your friend if you are well-rested and have your own emotional reserves in check.
Volunteer. Whether you're a survivor, a secondary survivor, or just a concerned (and informed!) community member, you can make a difference in the lives of survivors*. You may want to volunteer as a peer counselor or an advocate for survivors, but there are other levels of involvement that are just as important. You can organize a fundraiser, coordinate a wish-list drive for a local shelter, help stuff envelopes or other admin tasks, or even re-tweet your local organization's messages to help promote events or awareness campaigns.
Hang in there. A lifetime (get it?) of watching tv characters escape violent spouses by jumping into a heroic friend's car in the middle of the night can lead one to believe that IPV is like a house fire- an easily recognizable crisis with an immediate, scripted, effective response. There's no question of whether a fire is a fire, whether it's possible to put it out, whether it's a good idea to put it out or if it would just make things worse, whether the neighbors/family/boss/friends would judge someone for living in a burning building, etc. Surviving violence means making a series of decisions, and having the sense of courage and personal power to make decisions- some of them very scary- and follow through on said decisions. Supporting a friend or loved one who is being hurt means waiting for that to happen- which takes patience, respect, and love.
Note: the information provided in this blog is based on the experiences of the editors and is in no way intended to substitute the support available from legal, health, and social service professionals in your community. If you need help, please contact the folks in your area who are in the best position to provide the assistance you need.
Read, Call, Act: Resources
WomensHealth.gov: How to Help: practical advice for supporting a loved one
The Red Flag Campaign: information and support from the National Domestic Violence Hotline
MilitaryOneSource: community-specific information, hotlines, and reporting options
*In fact, many organizations are too understaffed to respond to inquiries from potential volunteers, so attending an event or fundraiser, or helping to spread the word about the organization is a good place to start. We do not recommend "just showing up" to be given something to do at the organization's office, and we strongly encourage that you check first to find out what's needed before making an in-kind donation. Demanding a volunteer assignment or dropping off unwanted goods more than likely makes a negative impact by giving their staff an additional job to do. Help them help others by asking what help you can provide first.