After writing here about my experience with child abuse, I've had a number of readers and friends ask me for advice on how to help abuse victims. With one in four women experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime, it's no surprise that so many are concerned about neighbors, friends and loved ones. Here's my advice, based on my own experiences, for how to help abuse victims.
Address the subject head-on. Tell your friend that you are aware of what's happening and you're very concerned. Let her know that you care and will do anything you can to get her into a safe environment. Keep in mind, however, that you can't control the situation. You can't force women to leave their abuser. It can takes years and many, many calls for help before victims are able to break free of the cycle of abuse. Be patient. Be kind. Keep the lines of communication open so that she knows she has someone to turn to when she's ready to start a new chapter.
Provide any tangible help that you can give. The most obvious, immediate needs are assistance getting out of the situation and day-to-day things like shelter, food, transportation and representation in court. Frequently, abusers have complete control over the money and credit cards. Cell phones and other accounts may be in his name. A good way to get her support is to contact the local police department and ask for the number of a nearby women's shelter or domestic violence survivor's support group.
Offer words of support. The victim may not be ready to leave or they may be beyond immediate danger. Everyone wants to provide tangible aid in these situations, but one of the biggest things you can do is simply tell her that you're there for her. As soon as a survivor opens up about her experience or someone inadvertently finds out, she's at her most vulnerable. What you say in that time can make a huge difference. Empower her by letting her know that this does not define her life. Help her picture things a month or a year down the line to gain some perspective. It can be very confusing to finally break free from an abusive relationship, so give her time to grieve and come to terms with what she's been through.
One good organization with resources and tips for becoming and advocate or telling your story is Brave Woman. They've come up with a pledge to let women know that they aren't alone and they deserve respect. I've taken the pledge and will be taking a stand this year by being more vocal about my own experience to empower others. Ready to help? Take the Brave Woman pledge to stand up for human dignity. You can also get involved with the cause on Twitter and Facebook. Also, join me at the Brave Woman Twitter party January 17th from 8:00-9:00 pm EST!
This post has been compensated as part of a campaign for Collective Bias. All opinons are my own.