Stop domestic violence.
Stop domestic violence. (photo: iStock.com)

"You cannot rescue somebody from an abusive situation. Even though you don't want to see a person being hurt, ultimately that person has to be the one to decide that they want to do something about it."

While domestic violence cases involving celebrities often make headlines, the problem is shared by a shocking number of everyday Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 12 million women and men are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. every year.

Also known as intimate partner violence, domestic violence occurs between current spouses or boyfriends and girlfriends as well as former spouses and former dating partners. About one in five victims are male, according to Department of Justice statistics.

"Basically, what domestic violence is is a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviors," explains Margaret Bayston, the CEO and executive director of Laura's House, a California-based domestic violence agency that has served 50,000 clients over the course of two decades. "Usually one person is using these tactics over another person to gain power and control. It's all about power and control."

It is a problem that cuts across class, race, ethnicity and sexual preference.

"There's no standard. There's no stereotype," Bayston said. "It really can affect anybody."

Early Warning Signs

Though domestic violence is commonly associated with violent physical behavior, the vulnerable partner typically finds her or himself subject to other forms of abuse first.

Abusive partners "don't go and just slap you from nowhere," said Dr. Ludy Green, the author of ["Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom."](http://www.ludygreen.com/) "They first go through the process of humiliation."

Red flags that a partner is likely to become physically abusive include pressuring a girlfriend or boyfriend to commit early in a relationship; publicly or privately insulting and threatening the victim; acting jealous and raising accusations of infidelity; and exhibiting other controlling behavior such as preventing the victim from working, taking away money, restricting access to the telephone and forbidding participation in social occasions.

If victims do spend time with friends, those get-togethers might be interrupted by constant text messages or phone calls from the abusive partner. If a couple has children, the abusive partner may use them to relay messages or even threaten to take them away, said Green.

An abuser may become physically threatening by hitting walls, breaking plates and even hurting family pets, even while insisting to the victim that the victim is the troubled one.

"They make you think you are the crazy person," Green said.

When physical abuse occurs, it ranges from punches to rape and can ultimately lead to murder. Intimate partner violence resulted in 2,340 homicides in 2007, according to the CDC.

Outward Signs of Domestic Violence: What Friends and Co-Workers Should Know

Victims of domestic violence often have unexplained bruises or make up excuses that don't quite match up with the injuries they've sustained. They may be more prone to wearing long sleeves and high-necked tops even in warm weather "because they're actually hiding bruises," Bayston said.

Friends may notice that the victim isn't showing up at social events while relatives may notice the same with respect to family gatherings.

When they are in company of friends, victims may act withdrawn. They might be especially reluctant to talk about their partners and may have difficulty maintaining a conversation.

"They don't focus," said Green. "They will talk to you but not as focused as before because they're thinking about their problem."

Friends may notice that a victim doesn't have any spending money, even if she's gainfully employed.

Signs of domestic violence often manifest in the workplace, said Houston, Texas therapist and career counselor [Rachel Eddins](http://eddinscounseling.com/).

Victims may have a high absenteeism rate due to frequent medical problems and, if they have children, fears about leaving their children home alone with their abuser. When they are at their jobs, the quality of their work may suffer for no apparent reason and they may have difficulty concentrating.

A victim may find herself receiving multiple, unsettling phone calls during the work day and generally may appear anxious, upset and depressed.

How Friends Can Offer Support

If a friend is concerned that someone they know is a victim of domestic violence, "the biggest thing you can do is listen," Bayston said.

"It's really important to be supportive, listening to them, remembering that it might be difficult for them to talk about the abuse...You don't want somebody to feel as though they can't talk to you because you're going to judge them."

Even if they're ready to talk, victims may be unprepared to leave their partners or even acknowledge that their relationship is indeed abusive. Bayston said that, on average, victims leave and return to their abusive partners seven times before ending the relationship for good.

Friends can recommend that victims call [The National Domestic Violence Hotline](http://www.thehotline.org/) or local agencies like [Laura's House](http://www.laurashouse.org/) for more information. But they should refrain from criticizing a victim if she chooses not to leave her partner.

"You cannot rescue somebody from an abusive situation. Even though you don't want to see a person being hurt, ultimately that person has to be the one to decide that they want to do something about it," Bayston said. Otherwise, she said, "you can alienate the victim who is not ready to acknowledge they're being abused."

Developing a Safety Plan

Ending a relationship comes with its own risks -- it's the time when victims are most at risk of being killed by their abusers.

It is important for victims to develop escape or safety plans that determine exactly what victims should do if they decide to leave their abusers.

They should have bags packed and stored in places where the abuser cannot find them. Money, copies of important keys, passports and other important documents and medicine should also be stored in a safe place that's accessible to the victims in case they need to leave quickly. They may choose to leave the home when the abusive partner is away on a business trip.

Victims must determine what mode of transportation they will use to leave and where they will go, whether it be to a friend's house or to a shelter. [The National Domestic Violence Hotline](http://www.thehotline.org/) can direct victims to the shelters closest to them, give recommendations for support groups and provide other information. If they have children, victims should also inform schools and teachers of their plans, confirming that it's possible to have the children released to them and not to their abusive partners.

Children should be taught to use the telephone and how to call their local police and fire departments. Green recommends establishing a code word, such as "balloon," to use with children or friends in case of emergencies or during an attack to indicate that police must be called. Friends can also assist victims by offering them an emergency place to stay or simply helping them devise their safety plans.

Victims can also take measures to keep themselves safer at work, including giving pictures of their abusers to security guards and friendly co-workers, informing their supervisors of the situation, avoiding going to lunch alone and asking a security guard to walk them to their cars. Victims should also provide an emergency contact person in case they become unreachable.

Victims without children should move as far as possible from the abuser, change phone numbers and "start life anew," Green said. If the victim is later contacted by the abuser, she should get a restraining order, Green said.

Those with children face a considerably more complicated situation. Green recommends getting legal help immediately.

Getting the Police Involved

Victims who wish to see their abusers brought to justice should call the police to report domestic violence incidents as they're occurring. They may ask police to take photos of their injuries or even request that a friend do it with a cell phone. They should also save threatening text messages, voicemails and emails -- these could all later be used as evidence in court.

When filing a report, victims should get an officer's badge number and, if an arrest is made, a booking number. Victims should be aware that after an arrest, a perpetrator may be held in custody for only a few hours.

"We consider it much safer when a client gets a restraining order," Bayston said.

Friends may call police on behalf of a victim, but only with the victim's cooperation. There are two cases, however, when third parties should call police even if a victim hasn't requested it, Bayston said: When neighbors hear abuse taking place in real time or when there's suspicion that children are being abused.

"You could save a life," Bayston said. "The police prefer that we call and they'll decide whether (the situation) constitutes domestic violence."

When there's concern about a child being abused, child protective services should also be notified. Phone numbers for state-specific agencies that handle reports of suspected child abuse or neglect are available at this [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website]( https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=5&rate_chno=11-11172).

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