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What do you do if you think your friend is a victim of abuse?

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ANN MARIE AMES
October 19, 2008
She’s been your friend forever.
You used to be connected at the hip, going out for dinner or chatting on the phone.
But since she’s gotten married, well, she’s hard to get a hold of.
“I can’t go out tonight,” she tells you. “Tom thinks since you’re single, you’ll get me in trouble. Besides, he won’t give me the money to go out.”
On the rare occasions you get together, he calls constantly. Or he drives by the restaurant where you’re eating.
She insists he loves her and means no harm.
So you think, “Maybe he’s just needy. I mean … he’s not mean, right? He’s not hitting her or anything.”
So you keep your mouth shut.
And you worry.

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That’s a hypothetical situation, but it’s the kind of scenario where women might recognize themselves and a friend, said Martha Pearson with the YWCA of Rock County.


“Yes this is typical—to the point of making it very impossible for a woman to have meaningful relationships,” Pearson said.


So, as the friend of a woman in a relationship with a controlling man—controlling to the point of being abusive—what do you do?


Offer help, and then let your friend make up her own mind, say some domestic violence advocates.


October is domestic violence awareness month, which was started in 1987 to bring awareness to the problem and bring support to battered women and children.


Domestic abuse is about more than physical violence, said Marilyn Harris with the YWCA of Rock County. It’s about control, which can take the form of psychological, sexual or emotional abuse.


Be aware

Rock County last summer experienced three murder-suicides—the most violent form of domestic abuse. Advocates pointed out to The Janesville Gazette red flags in those relationships and others.


Controlling and possibly abusive behaviors include activities such as checking the mileage on a victim’s car, tracking her location via cell phone or accusing her of infidelity, Harris said.


An abuser whose attention seems “cute or sweet” during a dating relationship can turn controlling after the wedding, said Kerry Parker with the YWCA of Rock County.


Jann Roethe of Edgerton, a domestic violence advocate, warns people to watch if a normally extroverted friend suddenly becomes introverted, a possible sign of abuse.


“They’re not very social, they have little time for you, they always have to be home at a certain time, meaning there are some kind of control issues,” Roethe said. “The abuser is calling them at work constantly, following them a lot, always needing to know where they are.”


Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agreed.


“She stops going out on Thursday night with her friends because she loves him a lot. It’s her husband, so why wouldn’t she stop going out with her friends?” Seger said.


‘Be available’

Abuse often includes isolating a victim from friends and family, and that’s where you can help, said Judi Munacker, a retired Dane County domestic violence prosecutor who works now as a law enforcement trainer.


Offer to help, but be aware your timing might not be good for your friend, she said.


“Never close the door, that’s the most important thing,” Munacker said. “One of the greatest tools abusers use is isolation. When your friend is appearing on its face not to take your advice, it just might not be a good time.”


Let her know you’re there for her whenever she needs you and that you’re concerned for her safety, Munacker said.


Roethe, whose sister was killed as a result of domestic violence, said people need to keep in mind how hard and embarrassing it can be for anyone—victim or not—to reach out for help. Friends must make the offer, she said.


“Be available to them, and be very gentle and tender with them when you approach them with something you might have noticed, whatever red flag you saw,” Roethe said.


Ask your friend if she wants to talk, and don’t be upset if she doesn’t. And be ready with some information, Roethe said, such as domestic abuse hotline numbers.


Be ready to help your friend plan her escape, if she’s ready, Roethe said. She’ll need to have things such as birth certificates and other legal documents locked up and ready to go. She might want to have a car key hidden away, or she might need a little loan for cab fare or a hotel room, Roethe said.


“All you can do if you’re not sure is ask them if they’re OK, if they want to have coffee, anything, to let them know you want to help,” Roethe said. “Let them know that you can also help them with other than just emotional support.”


Be prepared to give your friend a ride to a safe place or whatever else will help, and remember leaving is the most dangerous moment for a victim of abuse.


“Sometimes they’ll just shut down and not talk at all,” Roethe said. “But they still need to know they can to count on you.”


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It’s hard for most people to understand why the victim of domestic abuse doesn’t leave her abuser. Here is a list of reasons compiled by Martha Pearson and Marilyn Harris with the YWCA of Rock County.


-- She has no place else to go. Imagine having to move yourself, your children, your pets and everybody’s belongings in the 72-hour “cool down” period when your abuser can’t contact you.


-- He brings flowers in the morning. He is sincere when he says, “I’m sorry. It will never happen again. I love you.”


-- Family members don’t think she needs to leave. When her mother talks about domestic violence, she refers to it as the “rough times” she had to endure in her marriage before everything was worked out.


-- Love. She loves him. He is her husband. She doesn’t want to leave him. She just wants him to get help so he can change his bad behavior.


-- She is socially isolated. She lacks support from friends and family and is unaware of available resources, because he has isolated her on purpose.


-- Leaving takes time. He monitors her every move and every penny, making it hard to find the resources to leave.


-- She lacks job skills. She’s never had a job—by choice or by control. So how confident is she that she can get a job? Will she be unemployed or underemployed? How will she live?


-- She could lose the children or child support. He has threatened to take the kids if she leaves. She thinks no court will give her the children because she is a lousy mother. He threatens to report her to social services.


-- She feels she’s breaking religious or cultural rules. It feels like the eyes of the church and society are watching with all the beliefs they encompass.


-- Leaving is dangerous. All domestic violence advocates will say that leaving is when victims face the greatest physical danger. He promised he’d kill her if she leaves. He says he’ll hunt her down and beat her worse than in any previous assault. She has no reason not to believe him.


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Resources are available to learn about reporting domestic violence or finding help for those in abusive situations and for offenders.


Most advocacy Web sites warn readers to only search the Web for help from a safe computer. Sites also urge readers to call 911 if they are in immediate danger.


-- In Rock County:


—The YWCA of Rock County. In Janesville, call (608) 752-2583. In Beloit, call (608) 365-1119. Visit www.ywca.org. Click on the “Find YWs” link, the “local associations” link and the state of Wisconsin on the map.
—The Domestic Violence Intervention Program provides programming for offenders. Call (608) 757-5677. Visit www.co.rock.wi.us and click on the deferred prosecution link.
-- The Wisconsin Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Call www.wcadv.org.
-- The National Network to End Domestic Violence. Call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or at TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit www.nnedv.org.

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