If you know someone is being abused this is how you can help:
B) If you suspect someone is being abused, assure them you are genuinely concerned and you believe them. Listen carefully.
C) Tell them being abused is not their fault. The fault lies with the abuser for they made a choice to abuse her. Think. Abusers don’t hit their friends, bosses or strangers then why do they hit just their partners and children? They hit them because they know they can get away with it.
D) Let them know they are not alone. Eight in ten women experience violence in homes, from intimate partners or on the streets. This does not mean that most women are being abused so they can’t do anything about it. There is help available and you can help them access it.
E) If they are planning to leave the abuser encourage them not to confront him/her. Her safety must be protected as this is most dangerous time for the abused because abuser realizes they are loosing control over the abused.
F) Encourage them to make a safety plan and pack a small bag with important items like date of birth documents, social security numbers, credit cards and bank pass-books, prescriptions they take, change of clothes, essential medications, child’s favorite toy, some snacks etc. that she can leave in your custody.
G) Ask them to journal abuse with dates, times and place and what happened briefly. Always record/journal when ever an abused tells you about an abusive episode. This will help in building the case in the court of law and in mediation.
H) Ask how you can help. What can you do to make them feel safe. Treat their privacy and safety as life and death situation. If they need ride to go to meet a lawyer or non-profit organization. If they need baby sitting or help with writing resume or keeping some documents and things with you for emergency purposes. Offer to go with them to these places. Show your support in their efforts of self-reliance.
I) Always remind them they can call police for help. Even you can call police if see it is an emergency. Like west now in India abused has recourse to both criminal procedure and civil remedy, PWDVA 2005. Yes, there will be many readers up in arms against DG for mentioning IPC 498A. The misuse of 498A happened because the law enforcement agencies failed to understand the language.* (go to the bottom page to read DG’s take on 498A)
Other Important Facts You Need to Know
Know Your Self:
Helping an abused is a complex and long-term task. An abused not only requires emotional support but also logistic support, like place to stay on short or long-term basis, money, childcare etc. Assess your strengths and limitations. How much support are you able to accord and how long. This is very important in desi context and in Des where there are no or limited community resources as shelters and counseling and support services are available for the survivors.
When Sunidhi had walked out on her year-old marriage and didn’t have a home to live in, the only person to offer her a home to live was actor and TV anchor, Annu Kapoor (co-anchored the recently ended Zee’s Antakshari) and his wife Arunita.
Help or Enabling:
Often times adrenal rush kicks in some good Samaritans in to Robin Hood social service syndrome. Their heart is in the good place but help turns into enabling as helping a woman with some money here and there while she is still living with the abuser. This support is good only once or twice as it cannot be sustained over a period of time. The abused will turn to you because she knows she can count on you and she would not make efforts to change the situation for ever and you’ll start feeling trapped or being used. Help the abused to find sustainable resources, like job, place to live, legal help, counseling etc.
When an abused comes out the well wisher who rush to her aid often think she could use their advise to make the relationship work. Believe me she has tried every thing in her power, be it keeping quite and not talking back or being Yes Sir person. So please don’t start downing your wisdom into her throat because she has tried every thing and nothing worked because it was never about her. To abuse was a choice abuser made.
Never be judgmental; you have no clue why she is still living with the abuser. Do not ask her to choose between you and her abuser. If you do so then you are no better than the abuser. You are forcing her to make a decision she is not yet ready to. That is what abusers do, manipulate decisions by threats, and withdrawal of resources, affection and support. If you do so she’ll withdraw from you cause there is more emotional and physical investment in her relationship with the abuser than you.
Yes, an abused may return to her abuser even after you have assured her you’ll help her or there is other help available. Research shows a woman makes 8 to 9 attempts before she can finally leave her abuser. She tries every thing in her power to make it work. She leaves only when her or her children’s life is in danger or she realizes she has tried every thing and there is nothing more she can do to make it work. During this vacillation the one who is helping the abused may feel frustrated and give upon her. And that is what happens in 9 out of 10 cases. Step in to help only after you are sure of your patience because just like you there will be few other helpers who will give upon her and she’ll feel defeated and will give up.
It is important to listen and show interest but it is judgemental to ask details of abuse. Even if it is one slap it is abuse. Trust me it was never just one slap or the first incident that an abused came out. A lot of water has gone under that bridge called abusive marriage/relationship. Just think what will you gain by asking her how the abuser hit her, “with open fist or close,” “what he said” etc. It doesn’t matter what you think because it is not about you. What is abusive is defined by the sufferer. Asking too many details is like making the abused relive the whole ordeal.
Robin Hood Syndrome:
Often people passionately want to help an abused but they also believe in their cultural values like family and marriage has to be saved at all costs. They think if they intervened may be the marriage and family can be saved. At other times the abuser comes to know that they are sympathetic or helping the abused. In that case the abuser tries to woo them with their sorry tales and pledges that there will be no more violence. If that doesn’t work then abusers try to scare away all the sympathesizers by threats of violence or scare tactics like stalking or displaying weapons. It can further escalate into violence.
You are not trained for mediation. Stay away from the abuser. Abusers are charmers and good manipulators. Their aim is to isolate the victim from every possible support. When an abused discloses abuse believe me she had tried every thing in her power to save the relationship. She had kept quite due to shame, family name, love and what not. So she knows what knows what she is doing. Please do not influence her decision. You can’t be friends to both abuser and the abused at the same time. Sorry that is the fact you have to pick your team. If you believe there is no excuse for abuse then you’ll pick the right team.
Then there is another herd of Robin Hoods, who think they are doing the abused a favor by giving them living space. They are feigning concern basically their agenda is self-aggrandizement. They use words like “feel at home,” but that basically means you do the chores and laundry while I go out to movies. Please excuse the abused for being abused she does not need another abuser. These Hoods also brag around how they are helping someone. Even if they don’t use their name the news travels faster to the abusers. Trust me on this one.
Treat the privacy of an abused as if it were a life and death situation. You can report to authorities if their life and limb is in danger but please do not go around bragging how you are helping someone. It is not about you.
*The willful conduct of cruelty is defined in 498A and there is also a mention of dowry related harassment. These were two different things. If the law enforcement (read male establishment) registered complaints against battery and emotional abuse they failed to give a
cause motive for such abuses. So dowry was an easy excuse because law needs a reason motive to justify a crime. There is tremendous harassment even when there is no dowry is given and taken. What is the reason for such harassment, nothing in particular and just being a bahu is good enough reason.
More women are killed and abused everyday than those who became firewood to flames of dowry. Yet handful of women have managed with the help of lawyers and law enforcement nexus to abuse 498A. It is definitely wrong but is not good enough reason to color all other women survivors of Domestic Violence black. If you are planning to rant here on 498A please go else where. DG is trained on 498A and has worked with law enforcement so she knows the facts.
Unless discrimination against women at all levels is addressed and social obligation of being married and remaining married at all costs are not undone women will suffer. Unless communities stand up and denounce Violence against Women, women and families will suffer. Unless perpetrators of VAW are not held accountable women and families will suffer.