October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and research shows that at least 60 percent of us know a victim of domestic abuse. But what can we do to help? Sandy T. Williams, domestic violence residential and community services director at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, offered these suggestions:
- Listen. If someone is confiding in you, resist the urge to have all the answers. Validate your friend’s feelings. Don’t judge. She may already be feeling shame and embarrassment.
- Be careful about the words you use. If you are approaching someone because you suspect abuse, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been injured recently” or “I’m concerned about you.” Do not speak negatively about the abuser.
- Focus on the victim, not the abuser. Help the victim reflect on the power and control she has and reinforce that the abuse is not her fault. Don’t tell the victim she has to leave the relationship immediately. “What we know about domestic violence is that the person may still love the abuser,” said Williams. “In addition, leaving can be one of the most dangerous times for the victim.”
- Recognize that every domestic violence situation is unique. Your friend’s situation may be different from others you have known, including your own. “It’s important to recognize that each person is an expert in her own experience,” said Williams. “It’s also important to recognize that everyone has her own timetable to take back her power and control and make her own decisions.”
- Gather resources and talk about safety planning. If your friend recognizes that she’s in an abusive situation (and this can take awhile), you can help her develop a plan. “Gather resources first, then give the person the information if she’s ready,” said Williams. YWCA Evanston/North Shore is a good place to start. It offers a 24-hour crisis line: 877-718-1868.
- Remember that solutions take time. It can be frustrating, but you don’t want to be another person attempting to exert power and control over the victim. She needs to find it within herself. According to Williams, it can take seven to thirteen attempts at leaving before it really takes hold.
To learn more about YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s domestic violence services, visit www.ywca-ens.org.