How to Help a Friend Who May Be In Trouble

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A few jobs ago, I worked with a young woman with whom I eventually became friends. We talked a bit before and after meetings, and occasionally by phone when something at work came up. Every now and then we met for lunch.

She invited me, and other colleagues, to her wedding. And by all accounts, it was magical. Until it wasn’t.

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Out of the blue one night, she called and asked if I could give her a ride. It was late, so I didn’t question why (this was before ridesharing options and Facebook). When she got into the car, I could see that she’d been crying. I could also see that she had a black eye. She asked that I take her to a family member’s home, and turned quiet.

I stared at her, not starting the car. “Are you safe?”

“I will be.”

“What can I do to help?”

“You’re doing it.”

Once we arrived at our destination, I told her that she could call or text me at anytime and I would come. She assured me that this was her out, that her family was waiting for her, and that she wouldn’t be going back.

And she didn’t. She got out of her marriage, moved through the experience with support and help, and is in a more supportive and loving relationship now.

But that’s not always the case, it it? I kept running through conversations we’d had, times I’d seen her, to think back to anything that I may have missed as a sign that something was wrong or that she was in trouble. There was nothing.

Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death amongst women. Tracking numbers is tricky, but here are some local statistics:

  • The Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) reported that in 2016, 146 Texas women were murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands, intimate partners, boyfriends, or ex-boyfriends. Nearly half were ending or in the process of ending a relationship.
  • In 2017, 136 domestic violence-related deaths were tracked in our area.
  • As of October 2018, Bexar County judges had signed 941 protective orders for the year—15% of all protective orders issued in Texas.
  • Bexar County has stated that domestic violence is on the rise.

So what do you do when you think someone is potentially in a dangerous situation? The National Domestic Violence Hotline website states some great information:

  1. Acknowledge that the victim is in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive, and listen. Let the victim know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
  2. Be nonjudgmental. Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
  3. If the victim ends the relationship, continue to be supportive. Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at this time.
  4. Encourage the victim to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family. Support is critical. The more a victim feels supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner. Remember that you can call the hotline to find local support groups and information on staying safe.
  5. Help the victim develop a safety plan. Check out information on creating a safety plan for wherever they are in their relationship, whether they’re choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or have already left.
  6. Encourage the victim to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for a referral to a program near you. Offer to go with the victim. If they have to go to the police, court, or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.
  7. Remember that you cannot “rescue” the victim. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they have to decide what they want to do. It’s important for you to support them no matter what they decide, and help them find a way to safety and peace.

And what do you do if you are experiencing domestic violence yourself? Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are in San Antonio and need help immediately, dial 911. Family Violence Prevention Services is able to offer residential and non-residential clients shelter, transitional housing, counseling for adults, children, families, and legal services. There is a 24-hour Crisis Hotline available at (210) 733-8810. (Tip: memorize this number, along with the numbers of trusted friends and family.)
  • Establish a code word for friends and family to know you are in need of help, and that the police should be called. Teach your children this word, and practice it with them.
  • Be ready to leave at any time with emergency cash, clothing, and important numbers stashed in a bag somewhere safe (with a friend or at work). Have a bag ready for your children also.
  • While working on a safe exit plan, be sure to use safe phones and computers. Cell phones and home computers can be used to track information. Using a friend’s phone or device or a prepaid cell phone can be safer.
  • It’s not your fault. Nothing you have said or done has caused you to be abused, and you are not responsible for your partner’s actions. 

Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Additional Resources

24/7 hotlines:

Legal:

FAQs: Protective Orders
Need to Know: Domestic violence victims have rights

Law Enforcement:

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Amanda is a native Texan who spent a few years in the Boston area. Newish to the stay-at-home mom gig, she’s mother to a seven-year-old wilding and a five-year-old diva. When not trying to herd those cats, she runs a doula agency, Journey to Motherhood (@motherhoodsatx), and works as a birth doula and childbirth educator. She has been married to her husband for almost nine years, which also means learning the ways of being a military spouse. Upon his return from his first deployment in their relationship, she surprised him by proposing to him when she finished her first half marathon (more like she held up a ring and he said yes). Their honeymoon was a babymoon (ehh) to Italy, followed by another deployment, building a new home, and having another child. Much time at home is spent cultivating a medicinal and vegetable garden (she’s a modern hippie), reading all kinds of books (everyone is a book nerd), crafting cocktails (because yum), documenting shenanigans on Instagram (@optimisticheathen), and holding spontaneous dance parties in the living room.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is such a good piece and sadly, it is timeless as well. It can be difficult to be there for someone who also continues in the abusive relationship – the nonjudgmental part is so very important.

    I had no idea this increased during Fiesta, because I’d never really thought about it. If I’d stopped to do so, it would make sense.

    I had to laugh on a recent visit to the Emergency Department of a major SA hospital – they asked me if I was safe – in front of my partner. Fortunately, I was and hace been since we’ve been together.

    I know it was late and they were getting slammed. Retrospectively, I think I’ll drop a line and remind them to maybe slow down and ask that question away from a partner.

    Thank you for bringing this topic into the forefront – now and always it’s important.

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