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How do you help a friend who’s living with domestic abuse?

26 November 2018

How do you help a friend who’s living with domestic abuse?

Blog by JWA CEO Naomi Dickson for IDEVAW2018

(first published as Latte Lounge guest blog)

You’re at a coffee shop with a group of old, close friends. One of them turns to you and says ‘My relationship isn’t quite right’. You had suspected this for some time but hadn’t know how to broach it with her, she’d seemed unhappy and distracted, but had made it clear that she wanted you to respect her privacy. And now, she’s opening up a bit. She tells you that her partner of 12 years is controlling her spending, that she has to account for every penny, that there are daily verbal put downs – she gets called stupid and ugly – and that he has been severely restricting contact with her family and friends.

At the same time, she tells you that she doesn’t need help, that she’s managing. She just wanted to let off steam and talk it through.

Women who call a domestic abuse helpline typically minimise and underplay anything they’ve experienced. This is certainly true in the situation outlined above – in the 12 years of her relationship, she’d been subjected to ongoing mind games, as well as verbal abuse. If you’re told you’re useless every day for 12 years, you start to believe it – and this, combined with a partner who was imposing increasing financial controls on her, including preventing her from either having her own bank account, or getting a job, meant that she felt that she was actually useless.

What made her reach out for help at all? We know that women are typically affected by 35 incidents of abuse before seeking support, and the catalyst for them asking for help is often an escalation in the abuse. In this situation, perhaps her partner had started to shove, hit and push her, and she was scared. She may have felt that she’d been able to deal with the verbal abuse, the financial restrictions and the mental manipulation up until that point. It had got worse so gradually over time that she had learnt to live with it. She had probably told herself that she still loved him, and that despite it all, he loved her back.

Typically of abused women, she minimised what was happening to her – when she mentioned that her relationship ‘wasn’t right’, she was side-stepping the main issue – that her relationship was abusive, and that she was unsafe.

Domestic abuse can take many forms – physical, emotional, financial, sexual, social isolation – and is characterised by a pattern of controlling behaviour. Abusive behaviour typically escalates over time. The victim is disempowered within the relationship and is not able to push back and regain control. Of course, domestic abuse affects men as well as women, but Jewish Women’s Aid and other Women’s Aid agencies are here to support women. When men approach us asking for help, we always signpost them to the appropriate agency which can give them support.

November 25th is the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Jewish Women’s Aid, together with other agencies around the world will be marking the day with awareness-raising activities – working together to help the women who need, come forward for support.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or your local domestic abuse agency. If you, as a friend want some support, look at this page on the Women’s Aid website. And as a friend or relative, if someone tells you they’ve been abused, please do listen – it’s a brave step to speak out if you’ve been abused, and being heard and believed is an incredibly empowering first step to those who have been disempowered through domestic abuse.

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