October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is my privilege to use my voice to help those involved spousal abuse. I am not a a health care professional or expert nor am I speaking for any organization; only my experiences and observation.
So what do you do if you suspect domestic violence? It's not like child abuse where you can make an anonymous phone call and the state takes action. Unless you actually witness or hear violence going on (then please call emergency services), there really isn't a lot you can do, except understand, listen and be ready with information if someone does ask for help. Understand that the mental state of a victims of spousal abuse is such that they are unable to take action. They have been brow-beaten and manipulated to believe that they are worthless, unable to make it on their own, and that no one would care enough tot help them. Or that they will be hurt more to even try to get away.
I have three stories of encounters with abused women.
One woman I met many years ago. I worked evenings at a steak house and a fellow waitress shared with me the abuse she endured. When her first husband won complete custody of her children because of the violence in her home she ran away from her current husband--the abuser, and started again in a new state, telling no one, not even her mother, where she was living, She came home from work one day to find her husband on her doorstep. He told her he would kill her if she tried to run away again so she stayed. She coped with the stress by working two full time jobs to stay out of his way as much as she could. She worked at a restaurant 6 AM till 2, got a nap and worked the evening shift at the steak house. I had nothing to offer her but a listening ear and compassion. I don't know how her story ended but I often think about her, hoping she found a way out.
I met Leslie a few years after I got into recovery. Her husband had recently sobered up; she and I talked a lot about our experiences with abuse. One day after he started drinking again, she showed up at our door, physically sick wanting help to get away from him. By this time I knew from my own experience about the difficulties of breaking out of abuse and as much as I wanted to take her under my wings, I knew that she had to take the actions herself to succeed at breaking away. I found the phone number for her to call, and she had to walk a half a block to a pay phone as we didn't have a phone at home. She had to make that trek several times and she was very sick. When she located a shelter 60 miles away that would take her, I didn't offer to drive her as much as I wanted to, so she had to make more phone calls to secure a ride. That was the last time I saw her. I heard about a year later that she stayed with the program and eventually reconciled with her husband. I hope hers was a success story.
A number of years ago I met Diane, It was the same situation as Leslie's--abusive husband sobered up and then started drinking again. She came to my house with her three children and stayed the afternoon making phone calls until she found shelter and transportation. I remember her kids were scared and often ran to the window when they'd hear a car on the street. Diane divorced her husband who couldn't succeed at staying sober and she managed to build a life for herself free of abuse.
The role we play in the life of a victim is often small but you never know when you might make a difference. So this is what you can do: understand, listen without judgement or advice, be informed, and be supportive allowing the person to take the steps they need to take to break free.