Let's be better bystanders.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a hidden epidemic that is not discussed enough. The first thing to understand about this crisis is that domestic violence is not just physical, it can also be psychological, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Every situation varies and so survivors' responses to their traumas are all different. As someone who was in an abusive relationship, here are 5 things that helped me during my recovery.
1. Remind them the abuse is/was NOT their fault.
It is typical for abusers to pin the blame on their victims and refuse to take responsibility for the harm they cause others. However, they need to be held accountable for their actions, as nobody asks to be abused. After walking away, victims commonly feel the guilt and blame for what happened to them, as they were conditioned by their significant other to believe that they deserved to be hurt. The most important thing is to remind them that they did nothing wrong, no matter what. It is very difficult to come out of the "It's all my fault" spiral after being convinced consistently for months that it was, so support is key here. Repeat is as often as you need to: it is NOT your fault. It never was.
2. Encourage them to seek help.
There are many organizations in the general community and in universities that are dedicated to helping domestic abuse survivors recover: survivor advocacy program at Ohio University provides many resources for everything from sexual assault to dating violence, and everything said is protected by confidentiality. Seeing a therapist for mental health help is also of crucial importance. Many victims face anxiety, depression or develop PTSD from their traumas that affect their daily lives negatively, and getting help can make a world of a difference.
3. Support and believe them.
Nobody is asking you to understand what they went through. You can't unless you've lived through it yourself. What you can do is be supportive: listen to them, believe their stories, offer help, take them out for a fun activity to get their mind off the pain, check in daily, and more. Abusers will always seem like they are charming, funny, the life of the party, and harmless. But, that is purely an act to convince everyone around them that they could not hurt anyone. So, please, believe us. Domestic violence is not something to lie about or a way to gain attention. It is real, it can happen to anybody, and the sooner you understand that, the more compassionate you can be towards survivors. Sometimes, all we need is a good friend to be by our side and know that we are not alone.
4. Cut all contact with their abuser.
If you personally know their abuser, cut.them.out. Do not, under any circumstances, try to be the middle man or the mediator between the two parties. By keeping in contact with them, maintaining that friendship, or remaining neutral, you are endangering the safety of the victim. You may think that because they separated, the victim will be left alone, but that is not the case. After I walked away from an abusive relationship, I realized in horror that the abuser remembered all my favorite hang out spots when he would show up at them regularly: my favorite study spot in the library, the coffee shop I went to regularly, the weekly events I attended, even my residence on campus. They play a dangerous game of keeping their victims in sight, trying to find ways to charm them again or inflict more harm to try and maintain their sense of power over their former significant other. By giving them any kind of information on how the survivor is doing, what they're up to, who or where they hang out with, and more, you are putting them at risk. The abuser will find any way to win you over as the neutral party, convince you they're innocent, that their victim is to blame, you have the story all wrong, and get you to believe them. Take them off social media so they can't contact you either, because they WILL try to find a way back in. Protect your friends, protect the survivor. This is NOT something to be taken lightly and I cannot express that enough. You are not missing out
5. Do not dismiss them.
For the love of all that is holy, please do NOT say things like, "It's time to move on", "Get over it, we all go through breakups", "Why are we still talking about them?" "But you loved them, so they couldn't have been THAT bad," "You're overreacting," and more. Walking away and recovering from domestic abuse and violence is NOT an ordinary breakup. It is traumatic, puts the survivor in danger, causes mental health issues, and oftentimes, like in my case, we cannot escape our abuser. Mine went to the same university as me and I had no choice but to walk around campus knowing that he had my schedule memorized and did in fact appear right beside my classrooms to sit in the hall and silently haunt me when I came to class. Abusers' moves are calculated, cold, and purposeful. There is no "coincidence" when they happen to calmly show up around the same times and dates as their former significant other every so often. So, this is not a joke. Do not dismiss us if you do not understand our situation.
Unfortunately, with worldwide lockdowns in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence became a hidden epidemic . Many victims were trapped at home with their abusers, unable to go anywhere or seek refuge during this public health crisis. So, if you know or suspect someone who may be struggling or facing dating violence, please reach out to them or call the domestic abuse hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) for help. October may be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but you should be paying attention to this every month of the year.