Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence

Millions of American women and men are physically and emotionally abused by their spouses or partners each year. Recent polling indicates that someone you know is a victim of domestic violence. Your support and encouragement can be of tremendous value to a friend involved in an abusive relationship. You can ease the isolation and loss of control your friend may feel by listening, providing information on domestic violence, and helping to explore options.

Here are some possible signs that your friend is being abused and needs your help:

  • Does your friend have visible injuries, such as black eyes, bruises or broken bones? Do you tend not to press further about frequent “accidents” that cause absences from missed school/work?
  • Does your friend’s partner exert an unusual amount of control over their activities? Are you reluctant to discuss his control over family finances, the way she dresses, and her contact with friends and family?
  • If your friend’s partner ridicules her publicly, do you and others ignore this behavior? Do you already sense the volatile nature of these comments?
  • Have you noticed changes in your friend’s or the children’s behavior? Do they appear frightened, exhausted, or on edge? Do the children seem to be easily upset? Are they experiencing sudden problems in school or other activities?

A GUIDE FOR FAMILY and FRIENDS

What You Should Know About Domestic Violence

The first step you can take to help your friend is to learn more about domestic violence. Society’s lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence often is the greatest obstacle a domestic violence victim faces. Here are some thoughts and questions you may have:

  • “I shouldn’t get involved in a private family matter.”   Domestic violence is not just a family problem. It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, her children and the entire community.
  • “The violence can’t really be that serious.”Domestic violence can involve threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault and assault with weapons. It is rarely a one-time occurrence, and usually escalates in frequency and severity over time. Any act of domestic violence is something to take seriously. Domestic violence can be deadly: thirty percent of the women murdered in this country are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • “If it’s so bad, why doesn’t she just leave?”For most of us, the decision to end a relationship is not an easy one. A battered woman’s emotional ties to her partner may still be strong, supporting her hope that the violence will end. If she has been financially dependent on her partner and leaves with her children, she will likely face severe economic hardship. She may not know about available resources. Or perhaps social and justice systems have been unresponsive to her in the past. Religious, cultural or family pressures may make her believe it’s her duty to keep her marriage together at all costs. When she has tried to leave in the past, her partner may have used violence to stop her.
  • “Doesn’t she care about what’s happening to her children?”  Your friend is probably doing her best to protect her children from the violence. She may feel that the abuse is only directed at her, and does not yet realize its effects on the children. Perhaps she believes that her children need a father, or lacks the resources to support them on her own. The children may beg her to stay, not wanting to leave their home or their friends. She could fear that if she leaves she will lose custody of her children. 
  • “Could the partner’s drinking problem be the cause of the violence?” Although alcohol or drug use may intensify already existing violent behavior, it does not cause battering. Batterers typically make excuses for their violence, claiming a loss of control due to alcohol/drug use or extreme stress. Battering, however, does not represent a loss of control, but a way of achieving it. 
  •  “If she wanted my help, she’d ask for it.”Your friend may not yet feel comfortable confiding in others, feeling that they will not understand her situation. Try talking to her about the problem of battering in a general way. Tell her you’re concerned. Let her know you do not blame battered women for the violence.
  • Become Informed: Go to the New Jersey Council on Domestic Violence Web site, http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/essex/family/famviolence.htm  or call 800-572-SAFE ()7233) to discuss your concerns.  Gather all the information you can about domestic violence; contact programs and services in your area that assist battered women and their children; and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE. “Break the Silence. Make the Call.” 
  • Lend a Sympathetic Ear: Letting your friend know that you care and are willing to listen may be the best help you can offer. Don’t force the issue, but allow her to confide in you at her own pace. Keep your mind open and really listen to what she tells you. Never place blame for what’s happening or underestimate her fear of potential danger.
  • Learn about Community Services: Share the information you’ve gathered with your friend privately. Let your friend know they are not alone and that caring people are available to help. Encourage her to “Break the Silence” and seek the assistance of domestic violence advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local program. 
  • Be a Friend In Deed: Provide whatever you can: transportation, child care, financial assistance.
  • Help Develop A Safety Plan: Encourage your friend to develop a plan to protect herself and the children. Help think through the steps needed if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people she can call in an emergency. Suggest that she put together and hide a suitcase of clothing, personal items, money, social security cards, bank books, the children’s birth certificates and school records, and other important documents. 
  • “Break the Silence. Make the Call.” The first safe place your friend should contact is the National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local domestic violence shelter. Shelter workers can help her identify her options. The sad truth, however, is that not all communities have shelters or safe homes. Sometimes shelters don’t have enough room for all the women and children who need their help. Your friend may need to rely on family or friends for temporary housing. Be very careful when offering and providing safety in your home. A domestic violence victim frequently faces the most physical danger when attempting to flee. Be very discreet and talk to domestic violence program staff about the best way to handle this.
  • When to Intervene: It cannot be overemphasized that domestic violence is a crime that can result in serious physical injury and even death. If you are a neighbor or otherwise know that a battering incident is occurring, call the police immediately. Calling the police does not always mean the abuser will be put in jail. It is simply the most effective way to protect the victim and children from immediate harm.

REFERRAL INFORMATION

  • Student Counseling and Psycholigical Services (S-CAPS)                        201-692-2174
  • Public Safety                                                                                           201-692-2222
  • Alternatives to Domestic Violence - Bergen County                                 201-336-7575
  • New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline                                                   800-572-SAFE
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline                                                         800-799 SAFE

This material was written and produced by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project in conjunction.