Power and control. When it comes to what a domestic violence abuser wants, that’s all it boils down to. Yet, when the relationship first starts, the abuser presents themselves as anything but that. They usually come across as charming, caring, and the ultimate catch. They can be a leader in the church, a public official, or the friendly neighborhood block club leader; but behind closed doors, the mask comes off and the outcome can be deadly.
Domestic violence is an issue that transcends every race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Hidden in the shadows of our very own churches, community organizations, and workplaces are individuals who are suffering in silence from physical and emotional abuse, and they don’t know how to get out. Despite what people might think, fleeing from a domestic violence relationship is no easy task. For some, their abuser might have completely isolated them from their friends and family. For others, the abuser might utilize threats to “out” their partner who is in the closet about their sexual orientation, or will tell their partner that they will harm themselves if they were to leave. Children, financial risk, and the mere fact that they once loved this individual also must be considered. Even with all of those reasons set aside, a victim of domestic violence is at most risk of losing their life when they flee from the relationship. The idea of an abuser losing power and control over them is enough to set them into a fit of rage. There is no clear and easy path for someone to leave the abuser. Nevertheless, the one step that's clear, is the decision to leave must begin with the victim.
For a friend or family member that is watching their loved one suffer in a domestic violence relationship, those words are very hard to hear. Most often, their initial response is to try to fix the situation. However, it is not their place to be the superhero. The victim is already in a relationship with someone who is doing everything they can to gain power and control over them, so friends and loved ones must support the victim through empowering them to be the ultimate decision maker over their lives. Be that as it may, friends and family members can play a critical role in helping the victim on their journey to healing and freedom. If someone you know confides in you that they are suffering from a domestic violence relationship, the first thing you want to do is listen. Be that person that they can talk to, without judgement or fear of their business being told to someone else. This person confided in you because they trust you, and one of the biggest ways to lose their trust is for you to share what they told you with someone else. Breaking confidentiality could also put them at a greater risk, if word gets back to the abuser that the victim revealed the truth about them.
Secondly, reiterate that you are there for them, and will offer support in whatever way you can. For some, that might be in the capacity of a listening ear. Whereas others might need assistance with finding emergency shelter or filing for an order of protection. Regardless of what they need, knowing that you are someone who will be there for them on this journey means a lot. However, one must keep in mind their own limitations. Although you want to be there for your loved one, you have to be careful not to put yourself in danger or become so emotionally involved that you become unstable. Support them as much as you can, but also know when it’s time to refer. There are domestic violence agencies in every city that have trained professionals ready to serve, and will be more prepared to help walk someone through the steps they need to take to find safety. In many cases, a domestic violence victim may also turned to their faith community for help. For this reason, it is important for churches, mosques and synagogues to have a basic knowledge of how to be a first responder in a situation like this. They can do so by having a resource list available, as well as a working knowledge on how to help a victim put a safety plan in place if they feel like they are danger.
Samina Kausar, an domestic violence counselor at Apna Ghar, Inc, shared several tips that she gives to clients to help them to develop a safety plan. These include:
Keep a small bag packed with all of your important documents and a change of clothes, just in case you need to flee unexpectedly.
If you choose to leave your abuser, turn your location tracker off on your phone and your GPS off on your car, so your abuser can’t track your location.
Make sure that you don’t run to a friend or family members house that your abuser might expect or have the address to. That can put you and your loved one in danger. Instead, go to a location that your abuser is unfamiliar with or domestic violence shelter.
If you have children with the abuser, consider taking your children out of their current school, since the abuser will be familiar with their arrival and dismissal times, and can use that as an opportunity to find you.
Lastly, if you ever feel you are in a situation where your life is in danger, dial 911.
Those simple but important steps could be the difference between life and death for someone. If you know of someone who is struggling right now in a domestic violence relationship, keep the points above in mind because you never know when you might be the person they call for help. If you are someone who is currently in a domestic violence relationship, I want you to know that there is hope and you are not alone. There is help, and there are people who care about you. To find resources in your area, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 800-799-7233. Also, watch this video for more information on what you can do to take a stance against domestic violence.
Special thanks to Apna Ghar for participating in this educational video. Apna Ghar is a nonprofit in the Chicagoland area dedicated to helping survivors of domestic violence. Contact them for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. Survivors can also contact their hotline at 773-334-4663 or text line at 773-899-1041.