I was having a conversation with a group of women recently that I have had before. We were discussing injuries we had sustained that looked like domestic violence injuries, and the rude comments that people make about those injuries. This got me thinking about the weakness of public awareness campaigns. Plenty of people are now aware of domestic violence and are looking for evidence of domestic violence injuries. However this is not transitioning into actual help for the victims.
Why were these responses unhelpful?
These responses were unhelpful for two reasons:
- The judgmental statements about domestic violence were often made in front of the alleged perpetrator, that is the woman's husband.
- No one followed up with these women. In fact, no one did anything other than make judgmental statements.
It is sad that I have to point this out but, if you really think someone has been abused by their partner don't make suggestive statements that in front of the partner.
The partner certainly will not stop simply because you make some sort of passive aggressive statement. It doesn't make you clever, it doesn't make you helpful, just don't. What it might do is embarrass the abuser, which the victim will later pay for. So really, please, just don't.
What they need is your time
If you really think your friend is a victim of domestic violence then what they need is your time. If you are unwilling to give of your time, then again don't start, don't make passive aggressive comments, just don't.
If you want to help here is what you need to do. You need to arrange to meet up with your friend for a coffee on her own, no partner, no kids, no mother or mother-in-law, on her own. If she has kids and no babysitters maybe you need to bring another friend, meet at a park and brief the other friend to take the kids off to play.
Then you need to talk to her. Gently express your concern when it is just the two of you.
Say something like "I am worried about your injury", or "I am concerned that you aren't safe". She will almost certainly deny that the injury had any malicious cause if this is the first conversation you are having with her. Then you need to tell her that is fine, but you want her to know that you are her friend and you are there for her. Ask her how she is doing generally, ask her what is happening in her life, talk to her about other normal things.
Then in a week or two contact her to arrange another coffee.
This is what I mean by time. You will have to have many coffees or lunches with her, and invest serious time with her so that she trusts you.
Don't ask her at the second coffee about the injury you already raised at the first coffee. She will feel judged, she has been conditioned to believe that no one will believe her. She doesn't believe any one can help so doesn't see the point in bringing any one in to something they can't help with. She is probably also experiencing guilt, humiliation and shame. If you then harass her, communicating that you don't believe her, then she won't open up to you. This will make her less likely to disclose to you in the future. Just ask her how she is doing, normal coffee talk.
If she says anything concerning then sure, say to her "that is concerning" or "that doesn't sound normal". But wait for her to talk. Wait for her to raise things with you.
You have already indicated that you are aware of domestic violence issues. You are telling her, loudly, by continuing to invest time and energy in her, that you care. Don't push her away by harassing her for details when she isn't ready to talk yet.
You will have to do this a number of times. She doesn't believe that that people genuinely care about her. She doesn't believe that people will believe her. She doesn't believe that she has any options rather than to hope that the abuse stops. She needs support but she also needs to believe she has support. You need to be willing to give that support, or else you need to stop letting her believe you will support her. If you don't have the time don't start the process.
You are now entering the pastoral care stage of helping a victim of domestic violence. This is a separate stage, but very important. We have a separate blog post about that, you can read it by clicking on the link to the right. Please note that you do not have to be religious to give pastoral care. Read the article to see what I mean.
Eventually, once your friend has admitted a problem, they will need help. Professional help. Don't Google it, don't try and do it yourself. Encourage your friend to speak with a professional and offer to go with them the first time, if you think that will help them to actually attend the appointment.
Janis Donnelly-Coode has helped many victims of domestic violence, and she can explain the family law process to your friend or direct her to other services if that is required. The first appointment is free, we won't contact the abuser or send any letters to the home that will get her into trouble. We will help her to understand what steps she needs to take next.