In 1989, the United States government declared that October would be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to The Wings Program, which is a non-profit group dedicated to stopping domestic violence in the United States, one in 4 men — and one in 3 women — either have experienced or will experience relationship violence within their lifetimes.
Despite the harrowing statistics, domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality.
As a well-meaning friend — or family member — of someone who is experiencing domestic violence, you'll probably want to help (or be asked to help) a domestic violence survivor sooner or later. But perhaps it goes without saying that some ways of "support" are better than others. Here, then, is a list of seven ways that experts say you can lend a hand, effectively, to those who have survived relationship violence.
1. "Just leave" is not the answer.
For many domestic violence survivors, "just leaving" isn't the answer. Never mind the psychological factors at play (which are extensive enough) — DV survivors have to consider their housing, their finances, their children, and their pets before they just up and leave. (Also, according to The Wings Program, "leaving" makes a woman more likely to get killed by her abuser than staying.)
2. Get a plan in place.
Because there's a lot of planning that goes into leaving an abusive relationship (see the aforementioned housing, finances, children, and pets provisions), you can support a survivor by helping him (or her) get a safety plan in place. Find safe housing, find a way to separate the finances, and find a way to escape safely with the children and the pets.
3. Respect their choices.
Sometimes, domestic violence survivors aren't quite ready to leave, for whatever their reasons are. Don't pressure them to leave when they aren't ready and don't judge them for their choices. Respect them for what they are, and be supportive regardless.
4. Reassure the survivor.
Now is not the time for judgment. Key phrases like "I'm here for you," "You don't deserve to be abused," "You have rights," and "Let me help you" will go a long way in giving the survivor the strength to leave.
5. Provide resources.
As much as you may want to help your friend through this tough time, some things are beyond your purview. When things are beyond your control, try providing some resources — such as information on shelters, financial resources, and victim's assistance bureaus — that you may not be able to provide.
6. Never, ever take the side of the abuser.
"He seemed like such a nice guy!"
"That doesn't sound like him!"
"Are you sure you didn't do anything to provoke him?"
Let's be real: if abusers presented themselves as abusers from the jump, your friend wouldn't be with him (or her) right now. But abusers ingratiate themselves in a slow and insidious process until they "trap" their victim. And by the time the victim realizes what's going on, it's too late to just up and leave.
7. If you see abuse actively happening, call 911.
Let's get this out of the way: there is a difference in how the police respond to Black perpetrators of domestic violence versus how the police respond to white perpetrators of domestic violence. However, not being proactive in a situation where you see active domestic violence happening will lead to more regret down the line than not. At the end of the day, no one has a right to put their hands on anyone in a relationship that's supposed to be loving and supportive. Your friend's safety — and, frankly, yours — in an active abuse situation is tantamount to all.
If you, or someone you know, needs help escaping an abusive relationship, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is here to help. Call (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or text START to 88788.