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Victims of violence need help from supporters

7/21/2014

This is the 11th in a series about domestic violence.

This is the 11th in a series about domestic violence.

Q: How can friends and family help domestic violence victims?

A: There are warning signs for families and friends that might point to domestic violence, according to MedicineNet.com, 2014. These include frequent absences of women from work or school, numerous injuries victims try to explain, low self-esteem, changes in personalities, fearfulness of conflicts, isolating themselves from others, or stress-related symptoms, such as fatigue, gastrointestinal problems and severe headaches. One of the problems in identifying domestic violence victims is most of the signs could relate to other conditions, either mental or physical, except for the symptom of numerous injuries.

Also in MedicineNet.com, 2014, are statistics about dating violence that need parental attention, in particular. As many as 20 percent of teens have experienced psychological abuse in dating, and 12 percent have been abused physically. Together, one-third of teens are experiencing dating abuse. These are teens from grades seven to 12. Besides the fact these teens are more likely to become victims of adult domestic violence, teen dating violence increases the risks for victims for eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, drug abuse, suicidal threats and attempts, physical injuries, and even death. Thus, friends and families need to include teenagers when looking for intimate partner violence warning signs.

The 2008 Sudburg-Wayland-Lincoln Massachusetts Domestic Violence Roundtable documented a list of ways that significant others can reach out to domestic violence victims. Talking to the probable victims should be done when the abusers are not there. Persons trying to help should be accepting and non-judgmental. Such persons should tell the victims they are concerned about their safety and that of their children. If there are no responses, people should try again later.

Persons trying to help should ask what they can do, emphasizing how to help them stay safe. Offering to listen might be the best first step. An important recommendation is not to speak against the abusers or the victims for putting up with the abuse.

Persons wanting to help should not tell victims what they would do in their situations, such as leaving. Potential helpers can remind victims they do not deserve to be treated abusively, but have rights to health and happiness. Victims need to be reminded domestic violence is a crime.

Another useful tip for friends and families is to contact local domestic violence agencies for guidelines for helping victims. Giving information about domestic violence hotlines and services is a good gesture so that if victims do not respond at the time, they have the information on hand should they change their minds.

The average number of times a woman is hit by an abuser before making police reports is 35, according to a 2012 article on huffingtonpost.com. Of the homeless women with children, 92 percent state they are victims of domestic violence.

Returning to the report from the Domestic Violence Roundtable, persons reaching out to victims must be patient. Victims generally struggle for long periods of time before leaving abusers. There is a discernible difference between supporting victims and pushing them into leaving before they're ready.

Finally, friends and relatives need to stay supportive and provide safe places for victims to talk. Helping persons need to remember that usually abusers try to isolate victims from friends and families. Therefore, taking the initiative to keep in touch is important.

Observations about batterers might help identify abusive situations. They often display excessive jealousy, and that can be in front of others. Batterers frequently try to discourage victims from making or keeping appointments to seek help. They insist on going along to appointments with victims in order to monitor and control what victims say, even if the appointments do not concern the perpetrators. Batterers actively seek to isolate victims from support systems and sources of help.

Authors Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., in an article on Helpguide.com, 2014, recommend if persons suspect domestic violence but are not certain, they should speak up anyway. It is acceptable to inquire if something is wrong. Sharing concern, offering assistance and supporting victim decisions is best. These tips are emphasized over and over again in domestic violence literature.

The list of "don'ts" contains some significant recommendations. If suspecting abuse, families and friends should not wait for victims to take the initiative. They also should refrain from pressuring victims into leaving. Helping persons also should not give advice nor place conditions on their support.

Talking in private, sharing concerns, sharing the warning signs observed and reassuring victims of confidentiality are important strategies to practice. Trying to reach out to victims in obvious distress can make persons irritated and impatient if they do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and the timeline for victims escaping abuse.

Despite all the progress in the U.S. for assistance for domestic violence victims between 1980 and 2008, women killed increased from 43 percent to 45 percent, and men killed dropped from 10 percent to 5 percent. From 2004 to 2009, portrayals of violence against women and girls on network TV increased 120 percent.

* Next week's article will discuss domestic violence and communities.

Judy Caprez is associate professor

of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions

in care of the department of

sociology and social work.

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