By Anthony DiPietro Executive Director HAWC
Despite more attention focused on the topic than ever before, domestic violence (DV) is still very much an issue in communities across the country. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner* in the United States.” As you can imagine, when someone is in a domestic violence situation, they often feel depressed, defeated, and unable to get help. Unfortunately, many survivors keep the abuse to themselves out of shame or fear of repercussions from their abuser.
But sometimes, survivors of domestic violence share their experience with a friend or loved one, seeking a support system. If you become that support system, it can feel like a very heavy burden, and the initial reaction may be to encourage your friend or loved one to exit the relationship. However, it is very important to understand the dynamics of DV in order to help a survivor as effectively as possible.
HAWC (Healing Abuse Working for Change) has been the DV service agency on the North Shore for more than 36 years. We want to share some tips with our community to help you help someone else if you ever find yourself as a support system to a survivor.
- Domestic violence is about power and control. The abuser uses manipulation, threats, violent behavior and other means to gain power and maintain control over the survivor, disempowering the person experiencing the abuse. Telling someone that they have to leave the relationship once again takes away their power and authority over themselves. Instead, focus on listening to what they are telling you and be there for them. As the trusted person your friend or loved one has confided in, it’s important that you empower the person to be able to make his or her own decision. Let them make the choices that are right for them, even if you don’t understand or agree with them.
- Let them know that you are always available to listen.
- Understand that it may be hard for them to keep in touch all the time because abuse can lead to severe isolation.
- Ask if you can educate them about the domestic violence services that are available to them, such as HAWC, but don’t push them. A person must be ready to change before they can change, and it may take multiple attempts to leave an abusive relationship.
- Regardless of whether someone is ready to leave the relationship, you can help your friend or loved one build a safety plan. If you want to learn more about building a safety plan, please contact our hotline at 1.800.547.1649.
- Warning: please remember that abusers often monitor survivors’ personal devices, so be cautious about leaving voice messages or sending emails about the abuse and available resources.
Please be cognizant that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse; emotional, verbal, financial and cultural violence are all very real forms of abuse that people experience every day. Women, men, members of the LGTBQ population, adults later in life, children and teens can all be susceptible to relationship violence as well. DV also cuts across all races, religions, economic classes, immigration statuses, and cultures.
HAWC offers a variety of services to the community, including our 24-hour hotline (1.800.547.1649), emergency family shelter, individual advocacy, support groups, court advocacy, a Parent-Child Trauma Recovery Program, family law and immigration law, and community outreach and education.
We urge the community to contact us if you want more information about how to be the support system for someone experiencing DV. Know that you are not alone, and we want to help your love one as much as you do.
I encourage you to visit our website at hawcdv.org to learn more about HAWC and the services we provide.
* Domestic violence is not limited to relationships between intimate partners; it can occur between parents and children, caregivers and clients, and other dynamic types of relationships.