I never thought that I would see or talk to my best friend from childhood again. I assumed that she had simply cut me off. I had blamed her husband at first, but as time passed I simply blamed her. I had prayed for her at first, reached out to her…but, with thousands of miles between us I moved on in life. 13 years and one email later, I was devastated to hear the truth, the story behind her practical disappearance from my life.
She had done nothing wrong. She was smart. She was pretty. She was in love. She had done nothing to deserve it, and yet, she became a victim of intimate partner violence. My best friend who had been so full of life had become a shadow…locked in her home, trapped in another country thousands of miles from her own, despised and ridiculed by her husband. Her keys were taken. Her phone and computer were censored. Her trips to the store were timed. Her children were told never to listen to her. They were taught to disrespect her. She wasn’t allowed to maintain any of her previous friendships. Her life had become a nightmare.
13 years and 3 children later…she was finally able to find her voice, to muster the courage to fight. Who would listen to her? She was an outsider. Her husband was well-respected, prominent in the community. He obviously loved his wife. They were a happy family…
In spite of the odds, she fought to overcome when many would have given up. Living in a foreign country, shuffling between women’s shelters with three children, and attempting to navigate a legal system with different rules and regulations were just a few of the hurdles she faced. SHE could leave at any time. SHE could return to the United States, but her CHILDREN could not…not without her husband’s approval, an approval that he would never give.
I do believe in miracles, and I believe in answered prayers (My friend’s return to the United States with all three of her children is one example of deliverance from an impossible situation). But, I also believe that each of us should do our part to protect and help those we love who are victims of domestic violence/intimate partner violence. Domestic violence touches everyone. Even if you have never been hit, criticized continually, sexually assaulted, or been made to feel less than the amazing human that you are…someone you know NOW or may meet in the FUTURE has experienced one or all of these horrific things. Domestic violence knows no bounds. It touches women, children, the elderly, and even men. An excellent education, living in a fancy house, having the perfect job, being married to a civil servant…none of these things ensures a life free from domestic violence.
Everyone has the right to live a life free from abuse. And, since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month…it’s time to raise your voice! Here are a few ways to get started.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends or those that you encounter if they feel safe at home or in their current relationship? Asking goes a long way!
You will never be able to help someone if you don’t first ask them the hard questions. While some women may open up about an abusive relationship, many women are too afraid or embarrassed to bring it up. “Are you safe at home? Is anyone harming you or causing you to feel scared? Can you make your own decisions? Has anyone ever hit you or forced you to do something that you didn’t want to do?” These are just a few examples of the hard questions. If you are concerned that their answer is not truthful, don’t push them to “tell the truth”. Let them know that you are always there to listen and help. You are not there to judge them, and you will keep any and all conversations confidential. You are also not there to control them. Let them know that you would like to help if and when they are ready. (If you are talking with a child this cannot be the case. You must report any cases of suspected child abuse immediately to your local Child and Youth Services and if active abuse is occurring you should call 911 immediately. The information in this article is intended to address abuse in adults not children!)
2. Learn about available resources so that you are prepared to help someone in need.
Many resources exist to help those who are victims of intimate partner violence. Educate yourself so that you are ready to help.
The NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE is a great place to start. It is more than just a number. Their website has great resources for current and past victims, those willing to help, and health care providers. Click on the link above or go to www.thehotline.org for more information. Memorizing this telephone number could be life saving and life changing 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
3. Encourage but don’t force anyone (an adult) to leave.
While it may seem straight forward that someone should simply leave a bad situation, this is often very complicated and at times incredibly dangerous for Domestic Violence victims. Many women who would like to leave an abusive situation are afraid of what will happen to their children. Others are afraid that their financial resources will be cut off completely. And, many are afraid for their lives. The list of concerns goes on and on. Instead of forcing someone to leave a harmful relationship immediately, encourage them that when they are ready or feel that it is safe to leave, you will be there to help them. Your friend doesn’t need to be told what to do. She needs to be able to make her own decisions.
4. Help your friend create a getaway plan.
In addition to helping your friend come up with a getaway plan, rehearse it with her frequently. Encourage your friend, even if she is not yet ready to leave, to start preparing by storing an extra set of keys, a non-traceable phone, important legal documents such as social security cards and passports, money etc. in a safe place where her abuser cannot find it. Offer to help her with any steps of her plan that she may need such as transportation.
5. Get active in your community.
Here are a few ideas:
*Be willing to volunteer at a local women’s shelter.
*Become a volunteer advocate for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, answering these critical calls
*Donate-there are numerous ways to raise money to End and Prevent Domestic Violence. Even shopping on Amazon through Amazon Smile can make a difference. Your business can even partner to raise funds.
While we can’t make all of the decisions for those we love or change all of their circumstances for them, we can raise our voices against domestic violence. By unreservedly shouting that abuse is NEVER okay, we can use our voices to fight back. By offering a hand of love and support to victims, we can give them a glimmer of hope for a better future. Find YOUR voice. Find YOUR courage. Change someone’s life!