Helping A Victim Domestic violence, or “partner abuse,” affects the lives of millions of people. It’s been the subject of hundreds of books, magazine articles, movies, and television programs. We know that beating someone is a terrible thing. But beatings are only a part of what happens in domestic violence. And most of us find it hard to believe that it could be happening to us or to someone we know and care about.
Domestic violence is real and it happens to real people like us and those around us. It’s time to make it stop.Abusers feel a need to control their partners—to show their partners how powerful they are.
Many use violence, or the threat of violence; others rely on psychological abuse. Victims often report that the psychological (or emotional or mental) abuse is even worse than being hit.
Unfortunately, abuse isn’t always taken seriously unless there are black eyes and broken bones—or the victim is killed.
Domestic violence and other forms of abuse occur at all levels of society, among all kinds of people. Dating couples, married couples, and same—sex couples experience domestic violence in much the same way.
Abuse is the fault of the abuser. To ask what the victim did “wrong” ignores the fact that abusive behavior is a choice made by the abuser. Other choices are always available.
Alcohol and other drugs often contribute to violence, but they do not cause it. Batterers often drink to prepare for battering, or so they can use “I was drunk” as an excuse.
Rather than being”out of control,” most batterers are in complete control of their battering – and in complete control of their choice of victim. Some are careful to inflict injuries only where they won’t show, while others deliberately try to disfigure their victims.
Many women receive their first beating when they become pregnant.
Abusers differ from each other in many ways, but most have at least one thing in common: they grew up in abusive households.
There is nothing a victim can do to change the abuser’s behavior.
Abusers change only when they decide they want to.
You have the right to be treated with respect, to make your own choices, to live without fear, and to be less than perfect. And that’s a fact! What Exactly Is “Abuse”?
Abusive behavior rarely shows up at the beginning of a relationship.
In fact, many abusers can be exceptionally charming when they choose to be. And even though we call it ” domestic violence,” what happens is not always physically violent. Some abusers know that all they have to do is look at you in a certain way to keep you “in line.”
If your partner is an abuser, you may have noticed that he (or she) does some of these things:
Humiliates, degrades, criticizes or insults you.
Breaks things, especially your things, on purpose.
Threatens to do things like take the children, or harm your pet, or get you fired. If you are in a same-sex relationship, the abuser may threaten to “out” you.
Controls or interferes with where you go, what you do, and who you spend time with.
Insults your friends and family.
Makes you follow his (or her) rules (and sometimes changes the rules without warning).
Accuses you of being unfaithful.
Blames you for the way he (or she) treats you.
Ignores you or makes fun of you when you’re angry, hurt, or upset.
Protection From Abuse Orders
In Pennsylvania, a court order directing an abuser to stay away from the victim is called a Protection from Abuse order (PFA). Other states have similar orders, though they may have different names.
Some states call them Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO’s) or Family Protection Orders (FPO’s).
In Pennsylvania, a PFA can be directed against a family or household member, a current or former spouse, or a current or former intimate partner, including a same-sex partner.
If you are considering requesting a PFA from the court, we suggest you first talk it over with a counselor from a domestic violence agency. The counselor can help you look at what might happen as a result of filing your PFA petition. Sometimes there are unexpected, and undesired, consequences. A PFA is not always the most appropriate, the most effective, or the safest option.For Your Safety If you are a victim of abuse, even if there’s been no physical violence so far, the time may come when you are in serious danger.
Planning ahead can help you and your children stay safe. Here are some things you can do: Teach your children how and under what circumstances to call 911. Identify a safe place for your children – a room with a lock or a neighbor’s house where they can go for help. Remind them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
Arrange a signal to let the neighbors know to call the police.
Keep emergency phone numbers in your purse or car.
Notify your children’s schools if there is any danger that the abuser might try to take the children from school.
Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as torn clothing.
If you are injured, go to a hospital emergency room or doctor and report what has happened. Ask that they document your visit and take pictures.
Prepare an emergency kit that you can keep in a safe place and get to quickly – perhaps at the home of a friend or neighbor. Include extra clothing, money, checkbook, credit cards, important papers such as birth certificates and insurance cards, medications and prescriptions, extra keys, some toys or other items for the children.
Be aware that you and your children may still be in danger even if you have left your abuser. In fact, the period just before and just after you leave may be the most dangerous. Why It’s So Hard to Leave Most victims eventually do leave, but for many, leaving – and staying away for good – is very hard. Here are some of the reasons.
She wants to give the abuser another chance, hoping things will change. She believes his behavior is her fault or that it is her responsibility to stand by her partner no matter what.
She has no money of her own, no job, no skills, no place to go.
She knows the kids will miss their dad.
She is afraid he will take the children or that he will report her as an “unfit mother.”
She believes that all relationships are like this.
She has turned to people for help but no one believed her, or they told her it was her fault or that she was over-reacting.
The abuser has powerful friends.
She is embarrassed. She believes she has “allowed” this to happen, or that she should have been able to fix her partner, or that she was a poor judge of character. She is embarrassed to admit that the people who warned her were right. A male victim may be particularly embarrassed to admit that his partner is abusing him.
She wants to hang on until she can prove to the abuser that she can make decent spaghetti sauce, or she can keep the kids quiet during the football game, or that she can program the VCR.
She has been stripped of self-esteem to the point where she feels she can’t make it on her own.
She is afraid of being killed.
Helping a Victim
You cannot save a domestic violence victim from abuse, but as a friend or family member, you may be able to offer both emotional and concrete support.
Remember that the victim is not responsible for the abuser’s behavior. Only the abuser is responsible.
Be patient. It is natural for the victim to hope things will get better. It normal for the victim to feel a tremendous sense of loss at recognizing the relationship will not get better. Accepting that loss may take time.
It’s ok to say that you have noticed the bruises, or that the person seems to be upset and you are concerned. Invite the victim to talk, but don’t insist. When your friend does talk, listen – and believe what you hear .
Look under “Abuse” or “Domestic Violence” or “Shelters” in your phonebook so you can give your friend the number for the agency in your area. These agencies offer services that are both free and confidential. In Westmoreland County PA: 724.836.1122 or 1.888.832.2272.
Instead of telling your friend what to do, encourage her (or him) to examine the available options. Talking things over with someone who is willing to listen may help the victim see the choices and consequences a little more clearly.
Offer help, but only what you can deliver safely. Can you help plan an escape to a safe place? Provide transportation? Hold on to some of the victim’s belongings in case they’re needed in a hurry? Provide an emergency refuge for the victim’s children?
Understand that it is unrealistic to assure your friend that she will feel so much better after she leaves. Usually, the first several months are very difficult. An abuse victim who is prepared for reality is more likely to stick it out.
Try to keep yourself from saying “I’d never put up with that,” or “If I were in your situation…” These comments may only add to the victim’s feelings of failure and helplessness.
Call the police if you hear or see violence taking place.
Always be aware that abusers can be very dangerous. Your own safety as well as the victim’s could be at risk.