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October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, recognized as a national effort to promote awareness and prevention of domestic violence. Too many women have suffered and continue to suffer in silence at the hands of their domestic partner without knowing and/or understanding their legal rights to protect themselves. There are numerous steps a person and/or family may take from a legal perspective to ensure their family’s safety.
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Womenslaw.org provides detailed information and advice on how to deal with an abusive situation, even if you are not the person being abused. It is difficult as a family member, friend or co-worker to witness any pain and suffering experienced by a loved one. If you suspect that a close relative or friend is being abused, according to womenslaw.org, here are some tips on how to handle it for a positive and supportive outcome.
How Can You Help?
- Learn about domestic violence – Read the womenslaw.org website, talk to a domestic violence advocate, read books, or visit other websites to learn more about domestic violence. Know what services are available.
- Initiate a conversation in private and when you have enough time to talk at length, if she wants to.
- Let go of any expectations you have that there is a “quick fix” to domestic violence or to the obstacles an abused woman faces. Understand that not doing anything may very well be the safest thing she can do at any given time.
- Challenge and change any false attitudes and beliefs that you may have about women who are abused. Women who are abused aren’t abused because there is something wrong with them. Rather, they are women who get trapped in relationships by their partners’ use of violence and control. The better able you are to recognize and build on the courage, resourcefulness and decision-making abilities of women who are abused, the better able you will be to help them.
What You Can Do?
- Believe her – and let her know that you do. If you know her partner, remember that abusers most often act different in public than they do in private.
- Listen to what she tells you. Really listen to her and ask questions to make sure you understand what she is saying. Avoid making judgments and giving advice. You will most likely learn directly from her what it is she needs.
- Build on her strengths. Based on what she tells you and on what you have seen, point out the ways in which she has developed ways to cope, solved problems, and showed courage and determination. Even if the things she has tried have not been completely successful, help her to build on these strengths.
- Validate her feelings. It is common for women to have conflicting feelings – love and fear, guilt and anger, hope and sadness. Let her know that her feelings are normal.
- Avoid victim-blaming. Tell her that the abuse is not her fault. Tell her that the abuse is her partner’s problem and his responsibility, but don’t “bad-mouth” him.
- Take it seriously. If you are concerned about her safety, tell her you are concerned without judgment by simply saying, “Your situation sounds dangerous and I’m concerned about your safety.”
- Offer help. Offer specific forms of help and information. If she asks you to do something you’re willing and able to do, do it. If you can’t or don’t want to, say so and help her find other ways to have that need met. Then look for other ways that you can help.
- Be a partner in her safety planning efforts. The key to safety planning is taking a problem, looking at all of the available options, evaluating the risks and benefits of different options, and figuring out ways to reduce the risks. Offer ideas, resources and information. You can read about Safety Planning on our site.
- Support and respect her decisions. Remember that there are risks with every decision an abused woman makes. If you really want to be helpful, be patient and respect a woman’s decisions, even if you don’t agree with them.
Why is all of this necessary?
Many of us have witnessed and/or heard stories from a friend, family or co-worker detailing some form of abuse. Whether she downplays the act, or is genuinely reaching out to you for assistance, it is imperative to understand how you can effectively assist them in obtaining the help and services available to remove them from this horrible situation. It is never easy to witness someone you love and care about go through domestic violence issues, however, if you are equipped with the correct knowledge on how to deal with it, you will be a great assistant and supporter in getting them out of that situation.
Please visit www.womenslaw.org for additional information.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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