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Friends in Need: Interventions for Domestic Violence

Last month I received the following letter from an old friend, Lloyd Barnhart.

“One topic I would like you to cover/explore is that curious phenomenon that allows independent women to be dominated…even abused…by men with whom they share some kind of relationship. Why is it that a seemingly strong woman, an intelligent woman would allow herself to be hurt… have her life negatively altered by some guy she’s in some sort of relationship with (who they apparently don’t see).

“I realize we could/you could attack this from the other angle: Why would a man want to completely dominate a woman to the point where she ceases to exist as an individual? But for now… help me understand this from the female perspective.

I would love to, and I hope the following information answers your questions. Of course, each person involved in violent situations has their own reason for living that way. In general, women who remain in abusive or violent situations are more afraid of being alone than of being with their abusive husband. She may also be afraid of what he will do if she leaves. Usually, she is financially dependent on him. If the couple has children, the woman feels even more involved and trapped: she believes that she is protecting the children. The more time she spends, the weaker, more dependent and “stuck” she becomes. Abusive men are narcissistic: they have “Jekyll and Hyde” personalities, which means they can be very charming when they’re not being abusive. Women who remain in abusive situations focus on this charm and deny the abuse. They also have experience of her husbands speaking up smoothly to extricate himself from any responsibility for misconduct, for example, if she once called 911 and he led the police to believe that nothing was wrong. The woman feels hopeless and powerless, that no one will believe her or help her out of it. She is also embarrassed and doesn’t want people to know her misery. Several women have combinations of all or some of these reasons for staying.

The question here that concerns most of us would be: “What can I do to help?” Here are some steps you can take when you think a friend or family member is in this situation.

1. Learn about the options. Before you try to help, make sure you know what the options are for the woman and her children. Get a domestic violence hotline number, (National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) the number for child protective services (ask the operator for your local child abuse hotline, go to www or call 1-800-4A Child) and the numbers of local women’s shelters Call the numbers, explain that you want to help a friend, and find out what information these organizations need to help your friend or family member Make a list of the information she The National Domestic Violence Hotline website has a lot of helpful information at But don’t just recommend the website or the numbers to your friend details as you can. Remember, she will probably feel hopeless and helpless, and maybe even worthless. She will need friends to guide her every step of the way.

2. A violent spouse has impaired impulse control and can erupt violently at any time. It is vital that no one talks to the husband, because if he is angry, he may take it out on her family. Understand that if he is truly violent, it won’t work to talk to him. His wife and children must be safe before anyone approaches him. Once the family is safe, he may offer anger management classes or suggest therapy. He won’t be surprised if he blames his wife for her anger. He understands that if he involves child protective services and the wife does not move away from her husband, the children may be placed in protective custody. Also if the wife goes to a women’s shelter, with her children, she will lose her job, if she has one, and she will not be able to communicate with her relatives from the shelter. The shelters stress that women cannot go anywhere their husbands look for them, or they could bring a violent man into the shelter and endanger everyone there.

3. Find a couple of friends or family members you can trust not to tell the husband what you know, and talk to them to find out what they know about the situation and if they would be willing to help. If you are not sure about the abuse or violence, they may be able to confirm your fears or calm them down. If you find that your fears are confirmed, make it clear to everyone that your friend is in real danger. Make a plan of what each of you is willing to do to help. Perhaps a family member can take her and her children in, and keep her surrounded and safe from her husband if she gets angry. Maybe you can hook her up with a women’s shelter. You may be able to help her get a restraining order or protective order against violence against her husband. Some of you may know enough facts to testify on her behalf. You may be able to help her see websites on a computer that her husband won’t be able to access.

4. Once the first three steps are in place, you need to talk to the woman who is in danger. If you, a relative, or one of your other friends can get her alone, away from her husband, do so. Do not leave revealing phone messages or emails, because women in these situations are often closely monitored by their husbands. Find a way to meet her alone.

5. Once you are alone with her, tell her what you know about her situation. This can upset her, but it’s important that she know that you know. Tell her that he cares about her, that he is willing to help her if she wants help from her, and what you can do for her. She needs to know that she has support and protection, because walking away from this man is very scary for her. She may tell you that she’s fine, that she doesn’t need help. She may even be mad at you. In that case, don’t be angry or upset. Instead, tell her that if she ever needs help, you’re there. You can print the article “Domestic Violence Questions and Answers” from my website and leave it to her.

6. If your friend has children, you believe the children are in danger, and she will not do anything, you may need to call the child abuse hotline without her permission. This will not be easy, because the family will then be investigated, the children may be removed, and both parents will have to take parenting classes and domestic violence classes to regain custody of the children. In the meantime, Child Protective Services will give temporary custody to a safe family member, if someone is willing.

None of this is pleasant or easy, but if you honestly believe the relationship is abusive or violent, it’s the thing to do. Remember that situations of domestic violence or abuse do not improve without intervention.

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