Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Friends and Family-The Unseen Victims of Domestic Abuse

Nothing is harder than knowing that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship. You may want to help them to become safe, but feel powerless to do. That’s the situation that many family and friend of domestic violence victims find themselves in… and that’s why they’re considered secondary victims.
So what‘s a friend to do?
To begin, realize that the person may not even identify him/herself as an abuse victim. It’s OK to say, “I’m really concerned about you. Here’s why,” and then provide information about abuse and support resources. While occasionally the person may then disclose that they are experiencing abuse, probably more often they will not… but if you open the door with concern and let them know that you care and are there is they need support, you’ve taken the first step.
Victims sometimes fear that if they disclose to someone close to them, that person may try to control or take over for their own good. What may seem to you like a helpful offer, may feel overwhelming… the victim may feel like he/she is being controlled from every corner (first by the abuser, then by friends and family). Often a victim isn’t ready to make a change yet. Why not? While there are many answers to this, some common ones are: 1) he/she loves the partner and still has hope for a change in the relationship, 2) he/she is thoughtfully planning the right time and gathering resources to safely leave, or 3) there are other considerations that the victim is aware of. So while a loved one can feel frustration that he/she is “choosing to stay in an abusive relationship”, the victim may feel he/she is choosing what seems the best option right now in spite of the abuse.
This is actually a normal part of the process of leaving. Victims may sometimes need to think about leaving for a long time before taking action… and then may need to attempt leaving several times before making a permanent change. National statistics indicate that domestic violence victims average 7-8 attempts at leaving before finally doing so. This is a normal part of the process… and each time the victim leaves she/he may identify obstacles to address or become stronger in the commitment to leaving.

But… this process takes time… and it can be hard to watch the repeated episodes of leaving then going back. As a secondary victim, you may feel frustration, fear, impatience, anger, helplessness, or sadness; as much as you care about the victim you also have a right to your feelings. At DVRC we help secondary victims to talk about these feeling, to identify ways they can help, and ways that may be counterproductive. Our counselors understand the unique needs of secondary victims and can offer support. We are available 24 hours a day, not just for crisis intervention for victims, but to help secondary victims also.

What about the victim who is choosing to stay, who will never leave, despite repeated and escalating abuse? Friends and family may vacillate between concern and fear for their loved one and concerns for how their friend’s continuing abuse impacts their own life. Sometimes the abuse spills out of the primary relationship and brings safety concerns to the friend or family. Sometimes the repeated crises play out not only in the primary relationship, but generate crises for others also.  An advocate can assist secondary victims in deciding how much the abuse can impact their life and consider if there are ways to maintain the relationship while minimizing this impact.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or you are concerned for a loved one:
You Are Not Alone
there is help
Call our 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188
Previous posts related to domestic violence:

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