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Helping a friend

Domestic abuse happens everywhere to all different types of people. It crosses gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and education level. The numbers are staggering with more than one in three women and one in four men reporting violence at the hands of an intimate partner over their lifetime. With numbers like that chances are that you know multiple people who have or are currently being affected by domestic abuse. These victims could be your neighbor, your co-worker, or even a friend or family member. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs to determine when someone might be experiencing abuse.

Victims of abuse learn to hide it very well from the outside world. However, there are usually subtle and sometimes not so subtle signs you can be aware of to know when someone is being abused. There may be changes in their personality. Someone who would normally be very friendly or cheerful may become distant and withdrawn. They can start to isolate themselves from friends and family. This is usually out of necessity to keep the abuser appeased. Studies have shown that victims of abuse generally have more chronic health problems than other people. They may take more time off of work as a result.  They may be chronically late to work or have a lack of focus at work. Victims may wear sunglasses or clothes inappropriate for the weather to hide bruises they don’t want to explain. They may seem edgy and hyperaware of their surroundings. Victims may also go out of their way to avoid conflict. Some victims of abuse either receive or make frequent calls or texts in order to “check-in” with the abuser. These are just some of the signs you can look for in determining if someone is being abused. Most importantly trust your instincts. If something seems off then it probably is.

Equally as important to recognizing when someone is being abused is how you respond when you suspect it. Reach out and try to foster a relationship with that person. Victims of abuse are often isolated. If you are able to build trust in that relationship it makes it easier for the person to disclose what’s going on to you. If this person doesn’t disclose then don’t be afraid to ask questions. It may feel like you are crossing a boundary but if the abuse continues to be hidden it will further isolate the victim and the danger of the relationship will continue to increase. When or if the victim discloses listen with a sympathetic ear. This will help to validate the victim’s feelings and experiences and make the victim feel less isolated. Share local resources that will help the victim enhance safety and make decisions about the relationship. Most importantly, keep the victim’s confidence and do not try to dictate what actions that victim should take no matter how much you want to. The victim is the expert when it comes to the danger of the relationship. Only that person can decide what actions to take and when to take them. Your role is to be supportive and make the victim aware of the professional options and resources available.