HOW TO: Support a Friend Who Is Experiencing Domestic Violence

I am one of the 74 percent of Americans who knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. I watched those episodes of “Maury” with the abusers and the drill sergeants and thought that this plateau of violence would never permeate my life.

Dec 6, 2012 at 5:30pm | Leave a comment

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In the aftermath of the agonizing Jovan Belcher/Kasandra Perkins murder-suicide, media outlets and sports anchors have been examining possible triggers for Belcher’s heinous crime. But in the liner notes of the chatter about America’s gun culture, the prevalence of mental illness in football, and the shunning of black men’s mental health are the disturbing statistics.

  • A 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) from the Centers for Disease Control discovered that 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • This statistic increases among African-American women, who experience domestic violence at a rate that is 35 percent higher than Caucasian women.
  • The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community found that thought black women comprise 8 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2005 accounted for 22 percent of the intimate partner homicide victims and 29 percent of all women victims of intimate partner homicide.

Though these deaths have rattled our culture because of the prominence of the perpetrator, intimate partner violence is a societal ill that stems from patriarchy. We have not determined what caused Belcher to unleash bullets into his daughter’s mother, but her murder symbolizes the continuous battle against violence in relationships.

Kasandra Perkins and Zoey Belcher (their daughter) are the victims in this tragedy. Although we are still learning more details about the personal lives, family, and friends of the two victims, in most of these instances, however, there are forgotten grievers: The close friends who may have known of this pattern of behavior, were powerless in stopping it, and are now feeling guilty.

I am one of the 74 percent of Americans who knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence.  I watched those episodes of “Maury” with the abusers and the drill sergeants and thought that this plateau of violence would never permeate my life.

That changed when I was a junior in college. A close friend’s partner was using abusive words to shred her self-esteem. It was surreal to watch her fold into the fetal position and bawl until she was physically ill when he threatened to leave after he hurled insults at her for hours.

As in most relationships, their courtship started off well.  He wined, dined, and loved her, though he was unemployed without a high school diploma or career prospects. His need to control her — while also lessening her confidence to improve his — began to shroud the positives in their relationship. By the end, his hands had been around her throat, he had used social media to destroy her reputation in their hometown, and he still had complete control over her emotions. She told me that while he was choking her, all she could scream was how much she loved him.

I felt helpless watching the abuse from the sidelines. Regardless of the emotional support I provided and the “Girl, leave him! He is abusive” speeches, she still continued the relationship. She was fortunate enough to escape with her life. A lot of other women aren’t as fortunate. I can’t begin to fathom how Perkins’ friends are coping with her sudden loss.

Being the friend of an abuse victim puts many women in a difficult and painful position, but it is essential to realize how valuable that friendship is.  The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community reports that “women in abusive relationships need the support of friends and family. Battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less likely to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress, and were less likely to attempt suicide.”

By supporting her, listening to her, refusing to pass judgment, encouraging her to seek help, and not spreading her business, friends have the power to intervene without being obtrusive.

Be Supportive

This is much easier said than done, but most abusers isolate their victims, so if you’re a confidante, cherish the position and use the power wisely.

Don’t Pass Judgment

I included this tip because I am guilty of it.  I didn’t realize that I was passing judgment when I would spew negativity about her relationship, but that’s precisely what I was doing. Do not voice opinions. It might be perceived as an attempt to degrade the relationship, which is not what that friend needs or want.

Just Listen

Sometimes, listening instead of offering advice is best.

Confidentiality is Key

Keep her business private, period. She might withdraw and isolate herself, which can aid in the escalation of the abuse.

Encourage Her to Seek Professional Help

All forms of abuse take a toll on the victim’s self-esteem, which enables the abuser to continue his/her behavior. Professional help during and after an abusive relationship is essential to the survivor, so use conversations to encourage your friend to seek professional help at a local counseling center.  If she is hesitant to attend, offer to accompany her.

Friends don’t let friends face abuse alone.

Reprinted with permission from Clutch

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