This is a follow up to my blog about Domestic Violence. Read that, know the signs, then understand what you can do to help by reading below.
Abuse is everywhere. One in every three women are abused sexually and that is a staggering number considering how the addition of statistics for physical and verbal forms of abuse would only increase that number. This is not a game and it’s not something to joke about. Sexual abuse doesn’t happen because they wore a skirt that was too short or got too drunk or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens because the abuser, male or female, took an opportunity to violate their boundaries. If you know someone who may be experiencing sexual, physical, verbal, psychological, or any other type of abuse, you CAN do something.
- Say Something. Let your friend know that you care about them by bringing it up. Do not ignore it. Psychological abuse involves the abuser making the victim believe that they are all alone and nobody will help. By ignoring the signs and staying quiet about them, you are reinforcing this belief that the victim is all alone. Bring it up, even if it is a, “Hey, I see that ______ is happening, do you want to talk about it? I’m here to help if you need it.” Even if they turn you down on the offer, it is hugely important because you just let them know that you notice something isn’t right (a lot of victims are brain washed into thinking what happens during abuse is normal) and that you care and are there for them.
- Believe Them. Statistics show that less than 2% of people who talk about their abuse are lying. In male victims this percentage may be less. Victims of abuse are taught to cover it up, that it is their fault it is happening, so by sharing this very shaming information with you, they are taking a very big risk to their reputation, since they usually believe they are the cause of the abuse. This is not true, though. The cycle of abuse shows us that no matter how the victim acts, or what the victim does, the abuse will always “blow up” again, and there is nothing the victim can do about it. So when a victim shares with you what is happening, know that it is true. Be supportive using words and phrases like, “wow, I am so sorry,” or “I don’t know what to say, but I appreciate you sharing this with me,” and “How can I help?” If you make excuses for the abuser, this reinforces the idea that the abuse is normal, that they should deal with it silently. As a therapist, one of the things I’ve been trained to ask a survivor of abuse is if they lost control of their bowels. The reason for this question is because, typically, a victim will not admit to how bad the abuse is. If I directly ask if they were strangled unconscious, they will usually deny it, but they will admit to me that they soiled themselves (meaning they were unconscious during the abuse at some point). I share this fact in order to horrify you. Each of us must clearly understand the gravity of this topic and thus must understand the uncomfortable truth. If a victim shares something with you that seems unbelievable, believe them.
- Do Not Shame the Victim.
- Many people in our society today have taken the route of victim shaming. The idea that, “Well…if she didn’t get so drunk then she wouldn’t have gotten raped.” Instead of “She was so drunk, he should never have taken advantage of her.” The perspective shift here is vital! Shame the abuser instead and tell the victim that the abuser was wrong and out of place. In the case of abuse, I must support the victim and help them realize their worth. I must help them realize that the behavior they are enduring is not safe for them or anyone else. Standing up to the abuser may not be the safest way to solve the issue (and it hardly ever is the solution, since this typically escalates the abuse), so as a friend of an abused person, help them by never ever doubting them or telling them they can fix it by doing something different (therefore communicating to them that they ARE the problem).
- Many victims also feel a lot of shame because they did not actively fight back. Fighting back is only one of three automatic responses. I’m assuming you all have heard of “fight or flight.” These two responses are what we typically associate with danger. There is a third and actually more common automatic response: to freeze. When we believe we are in a life or death situation, our frontal lobe (the part of the brain that is responsible for higher reasoning/thinking) shuts off, and our sympathetic nervous system (which produces a subconscious dump of a cocktail of brain chemicals including adrenalin) takes over, and its either fight, flight, or freeze. Most rape victims will freeze because their bodies believe they are unable to win a fight, so their muscles go numb and they are unable to move, and a lot of times unable to speak. This does not mean they wanted it! It means they were literally frozen in fear, scared TO DEATH to move. Many people will say, “On some level she wanted it otherwise she would have said no!” Even the victims themselves will shame themselves with this thought process, not knowing how the fear response includes this freeze response. Do not further their shame by perpetuating that lie; there was nothing they could have done. It was the body’s best way to defend itself at the time (no matter what “higher reasoning” may tell us – again, that was not possible in the moment).
- Distract. Now, let’s say you see abuse happening in the moment. What should you do? What if you are walking down the street and see someone being abused or you’re at a party and you see it happening. What then? Distract the abuser in some way. Drop a drink; yell really loudly; do something to take the focus away from the victim and you can usually stop the abuse immediately. You don’t have to get involved physically, but it is surprising how easily the abuse will stop by making a slight fool of yourself in public. Obviously, this does not solve the whole issue, but it helps in the moment, and sometimes that is all you can do. Don’t think someone else will do it because, statistically, they won’t.
- Have a list of places they can call. There are hotlines, websites, and safe-houses all over the country. The Domestic Violence Hotline: (1-800-799-7233) where you can chat online. Here in Colorado Springs, TESSA does a great job of helping victims (Male and Female) and their children out of abusive situations, hiding them and helping them start a new life. If a friend asks you what they can do, you can give them the above information. A lot of times victims are not allowed to use the internet at home without the abuser watching over their shoulder, so they may not be able to access this information themselves. Most websites for victims have a big button on each page that redirects the page to something unrelated immediately and erases the search history just incase the abuser walks into the room unexpectedly. Help the victim by providing this information for them. You may be their only way out.
I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have any questions or comments in the below area. Or if you need to talk anonymously, give me a call, or shoot me an email. I would love to help in any way you need.