However, before a case turns dramatic or fatal and reaches the law and justice, it is of utmost importance that the society acknowledges its role in preventing it and protecting those at risk.
That includes the potential victims and their acquaintances. While domestic violence has its particular complexity, there are ways to protect oneself and our loved ones, because we ought to.
#1 Notice the signs
You will feel and notice that your partner overreacts to certain situations during certain times. Stay aware of these situations and try to avoid them. Think of several believable reasons for day and night time to leave your home to avoid abuse.
This might be difficult during the current quarantine, so avoid these situations you’ve come to know that trigger violent behaviors.
Everyone overreacts every once in a while, but it becomes dangerous when threats start and then turn to physical abuse.
Emotional and psychological abuse is also one aspect that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is just as dangerous as physical abuse.
If you constantly feel afraid of your partner (or an abusive family member at home), and if you always feel watched and over-controlled, then this is the time for you to start noticing the signs. Especially if your partner’s behavior towards you makes you experience self-hatred, guilt, helplessness, humiliation, and desperation.
The signs are:
Again, being controlled and watched. If your partner is always keeping track of your whereabouts, who you’re with, and what you’re doing, and most importantly if they always control these aspects of your life and get angry and violent if you defy them, then this is sign number one.
Sign number two: False accusations. Making you feel guilty and blaming you for things that you didn’t do is part of their manipulating plan and their way of projecting their violence on you. Plus, this is one of the reasons they use to control you and isolate you. If they isolate you, this is another sign.
Dangerous threats: sign number three. This when they threaten your life, your children’s lives or any of your loved ones. This is how they implement fear.
Disrespect is sign number four. Calling you names, disrespecting you in public, comparing you to others, belittling your thoughts, looks, and feelings. This will also include any attempt to rob you of your confidence and self-esteem.
Paying no consideration to your feelings and well being is sign number five. Again, shouting, cursing, hitting, pushing, grabbing, rape and forcing you to do things you don’t want to do. This will also include showing no respect for your valuable possessions.
#2 Document, keep records
Take pictures of any bruises and take videos of the abuse if possible. Save conversations, emails, medical reports, important documents, and record calls. Keep all copies somewhere safe.
These will all come in useful when you reach out for authorities and press charges, especially in divorce cases when children are involved. These will help you get custody and protect your kids.
#3 Plan your way out
Know your emergency exists in your own home and always make sure they will be available when you need them; keep them unlocked in case you are forced to rush out or keep the key where you can easily grab it.
This includes your car keys, and always keep gas in your car. Plus, always keep your phone on you.
Keep an emergency bag ready, hidden but accessible. The bag might contain clothes for you and your kids, money, IDs, passports, medicine, birth certificates, etc.
Also, know where you will be going. We will get to this in a bit (#4).
These are all in case of an emergency, for when you immediately need to get out of the house and/or when things get too dangerous.
However, if you plan on confronting your partner before moving out, make sure one or more of your friends or relatives are present with you in case your partner reacts violently.
You can also move out when your partner isn’t home if you feel or know that this is the only safe option you have.
#4 Ask for help
Don’t suffer alone. Build a support system. This will be a person you trust, whether a family member, friend, colleague, classmate, or neighbor. This person needs to be supportive, understanding, and aware of the situation (it can be more than one person).
Create a plan for when you’re in danger and need somewhere to go. Keep a spare key for their place with you if possible, or have them always pick up the phone when you call.
Change your usernames and passwords, especially the password that unlocks your cell phone.
#5 Know who to call
Your list of emergency contacts should always be close by, but better if memorized. Always be ready to call the police and/or hotlines.
Buy a new cell phone and keep it hidden if you suspect that your calls and messages are being monitored; you can also borrow someone else’s cell phone.
#6 Get in the right mindset
Get determined; you want to get out of this abusive relationship. Your abusive partner will not change, and the longer you stay in the relationship the more dangerous it gets for you and for your kids.
You can’t help or change the abuser, they need professional intervention. Denial won’t get you to a safe place; if you feel like your partner is abusive, then you are in an abusive relationship.
Also, know that abusers are often master manipulators. This is how they get their victims under their total domination, and into a dysfunctional co-dependent relationship.
Abusers tend to blame their partners for what they do of harm to them, and the partners tend to believe it and even come to feel guilty about it. That “look what you’ve made me do” after a physical attack should tell you not that you are at fault but that that they’re enforcing their abusive manipulation on you.
Even if they keep promising you that they’ll change for the better and that they’ll stop, this is highly unlikely to happen unless they seek professional help.
Whatever they may tell you or how they make you feel, always know this: this is not your fault, you are not to blame, and you do not deserve any of this.
No one deserves to be beaten up, let alone in the sanctity of one’s home that is meant to be one’s safe haven.
You should be respected and treated humanly. This is a basic human right. You can be safe and happy and you can get your life back on track. Seeking help and therapy will help you get there.
If you aren’t experiencing domestic violence but know of someone who is, you can help make a great difference in their life.
Your support and encouragement are much needed, especially since children are victims as well. Even when they are deemed ‘just witnesses,’ they get impacted psychologically and emotionally.
This is how you can help:
#7 Again, notice the signs
This could be happening to one of your family members, one of your friends, colleagues, classmates, or an acquaintance.
Usually, these things aren’t obvious. You have to rely on your senses and look for the signs if you are suspecting that someone you know is being abused:
Fear is sign number one. You notice that this someone is too afraid of displeasing her partner to the level of anxiety.
Cutting relationships for no reason with you or with family and friends: this is a sign that she’s being forced to be isolated from external support and help.
Sign number three: you’ve witnessed her partner being often disrespectful and demeaning towards her.
Some indications will slip out during a conversation, like how her partner is always mad or jealous or controlling, even if not put into these same words. They might have full control over her other relationships, her activities, her income, etc.
Sudden change in her personality traits: sign number five. Depression, anxiety, isolation, loss of confidence, etc. She might also get extra protective and close to her children.
Noticing weird physical injuries that don’t match the cover-up story or explanation.
Noticing the children’s behavior is also very important. Any problematic or unusual behavior might be a sign of abuse.
Excessive phone calls from the partner when she’s not home. Her partner following her places is also a sign to look for. Partners exhibiting over-controlling attitudes are abusers, even if not all physically abusive.
#8 Don’t judge
“Why don’t you just leave?” Well, leaving an abusive relationship is harder than it seems.
These situations are very complicated with various pressuring factors that freeze her into her nightmarish status quo: societal, psychological, financial, legal, emotional, fear of losing her kids, and so on.
It is impossible for an outsider to fully understand unless having experienced it first-hand. So, even if you don’t understand it, just know it and be there for your friend or family member.
Besides, leaving an abusive partner can also be dangerous when the law doesn’t protect the wives or gives immunity to the husband for being a man.
This is not a private matter. This situation demands intervention, and the victim needs assistance, and most importantly she needs your support.
You have to approach her sensitively and without being critical or judgmental. Which leads us to:
#9 Make the right approach
Make your concerns verbal. Explain why you’re worried, and make sure she knows that you are available to talk.
Don’t give up at the first rejection, in fact, this should be expected. The victim is usually uncomfortable, ashamed, afraid, not ready, or in denial. Most victims don’t know they are in an abusive relationship, so you need to be patient.
Be ready for when they are ready to talk about the abuse.
#10 Know how to handle the situation
Listen, listen and listen. Realize that talking about abuse is a big step for the victim. And above all, believe everything she says; it might sound like an exaggeration, but never underestimate the dangers of domestic violence.
Help her get in the right mindset, all that we’ve mentioned in #6. Make sure she knows that she’s not alone and that someone’s ready to help.
Direct her on how to notice the signs, to document, to plan her way out, who to call, and how you can assist her.
Giver her a list of services and hotlines.
#11 Offer help
Another kind of help is to assist her with everyday stuff when possible. Get things off her back so she can clear her mind and have time to think, plan, and act.
Take her children in for the afternoon, cook her meals for her, help her clean the house and, when needed, shelter her, and accompany her to lawyers and court, etc.
#12 Maintain contact
Keep in touch at all times or whenever you can. This will give her a sense of security and will help you detect when something is wrong.
#13 Take action
Agree on a code or signal for her to let you know when she needs urgent help or intervention. Currently, during quarantine, that kind of help is being freely offered by individuals in many countries on social media. They decide on a particular thing to post, like a request for a particular recipe, or a purple heart, etc.
Be her channel of information when needed, (find out how the police and other services can help her), support her at the police station, give evidence in court, make the necessary calls when you feel like things have spiraled out of control; she may fear that calling the police may make things worse for her, or she might not be able to place that call herself, etc.
#14 The damage is still there even after she moves out
Her getting her life back on track or establishing a new life after the abuse is never easy. This is the period where she will need support and encouragement the most.
Remember that most survivors of domestic violence have been controlled and isolated for a long time. Apart from professional help, she will also need a friend to talk to and lean on.
#15 Stay safe
You need to look after yourself as well during this period. Take care of yourself mentally and physically. This period will be very frustrating for you too. Stay calm, and don’t let yourself become too anxious.
Don’t get yourself and your family in dangerous situations. Don’t intervene directly if you witness a person being assaulted, call the police instead.
Plus, don’t let yourself get manipulated by the abuser. Abusers tend to discredit their victims, call them crazy, delusional, or liars, and create fake stories about them to present themselves as the victim or to justify their actions.
Sadly, we’ve noticed plenty of that in honor-killing cases and femicides in Lebanon. So be aware of that. Don’t fall for it.