*As a reminder -- we have included real stories of bravery, courage, and support told to us by survivors and their loved ones. These stories are personal, real, and raw. Using their first-hand experience, our guest posts can be triggering to some. Their stories include sensitive topics and language surrounding intimate partner violence and this should be considered before reading them.
*Names have been changed for privacy and protection.
Earlier this month, we heard from *Regan who shared with us her firsthand experience of surviving dating violence. This week, we hear from *Twila and *Ryan. Both share their experience bearing witness to loved ones suffering from domestic abuse. It is not easy to see someone we care about struggling, but it is important – and sometimes life-saving – to be there for them.
“The first time my best friend reached out for help, she was calling from her bathroom. She said her head hurt and she didn’t want to be at the house with her husband anymore. I was pregnant and living with my parents at the time, so they didn’t want me going to get her. I knew I had to do something, so I called her brother and he brought her to my house. She was upset with me because I called him when she told me not to, but I told her I knew she needed help and I could not come get her. That was the first time she ever left, and she ended up returning home later that day. I did not want her to go back but I knew I couldn’t force her to stay.
A few years went by and I got another call from my friend asking me to pick her up. She came to live with me and my husband for about 2 weeks, and then went back to her husband. After a few more years, she finally found the courage and strength to leave her husband for good. I knew it wasn’t an easy decision, but I was determined to keep supporting her through it.
If she decided to stay with him, I would have supported her and continued to be there for her if she needed me. As hard as it was to see her go through all of that, I wouldn’t have turned my back on my best friend. If I was talking to someone and they told me they had a friend dealing with a similar situation, I would tell them – DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM YOU FRIEND. If they ask for your help and end up returning to their spouse, don’t stop trying to support them and don’t give up on them. They need you now more than ever. Your support could easily save your friend’s life.”
When we are worried about someone we love, we react. In trying to protect our loved one experiencing abuse, these reactions sometimes include panic (“you need to get out now!”), tough love (“you made your bed, now you have to lie in it”), anger (“I’ll give your partner a piece of my mind!”) and guilt (“think of your children!”). When we react in those ways with someone experiencing abuse, we can activate feelings of shame and fear, and, intentionally or unintentionally, alienate our loved one from confiding in us about the experience they are living through.
Rather than jumping to demand a specific behavior from our loved ones, the question becomes how we can best help a loved one be as safe as possible. Let’s open the discussion with our loved one to include many options, driven by the survivor experiencing the abuse.
“I had no idea it was happening. Her husband didn’t seem like the “type” that could do something like that. I had even stayed at their home on several occasions and did not suspect anything. I later found out that she had told our mutual cousin but made him promise to never tell anyone.
My cousin lost her life as a result of domestic abuse. After her husband’s trial, I learned through court transcripts all the incidents that had been reported. The broken kitchen cabinets. The injuries she sustained from him being physically violent.
Looking back, I used to question myself and feel like if I had just paid a little more attention could I have stopped it? Or I would get upset with my cousin for keeping her secret. But I know that blaming my cousin isn’t the right thing. He didn’t hurt her. He was only doing what she had asked of him. And I know how hard it was for him after she died.”
In calendar year 2019, 29 Marylanders lost their lives to domestic violence; including 20 intimate partners, three bystanders, and six abusive partners. A number of these victims were trying to leave their domestic violence situations, whether it was filing for divorce, moving out of their abusive partner’s home, or ending the dating relationship.
We know that the question “why don’t they just leave?” is all too common and the blame on victims for staying in relationships is all too real. The truth is that many victims know that they are in dangerous relationships, but they also know that they may not make it out alive if they try to leave. Furthermore, they may be in fear for their families and friends, who may additionally be threatened with violence. (MNADV – Homicide Prevention Report)
How Can I Be Supportive to Someone I Care About?