Our community has been stunned recently by two domestic violence homicides – the quadruple murders of a mother, her two children and a niece, and another young mother who leaves behind a son.
These deaths are a tragic reminder of the very real risk victims of domestic violence live with as they try to keep their lives in balance while dealing with an unpredictable abuser. After 39 years of serving the greater Sacramento community, we at WEAVE know that a victim is at the greatest risk for serious injury or death when attempting to end the relationship.
Efforts to understand domestic violence too often oversimplify the incredibly complex dynamics at play. The term itself – domestic violence – is confusing for victims and community members alike. The violence isn’t always physical and the injuries are often hard to detect.
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There are six types of abuse that may be in play in a violent relationship including physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, sexual and technological. Identifying abuse is more about noticing subtle behavior changes than looking for bruises.
When a friend stops attending social functions or leaves early to avoid upsetting a partner, it may be a warning sign. A family member who is on an “allowance” that the partner doles out and isn’t allowed to make decisions about money may be a victim of financial abuse. The co-worker who is suddenly repeatedly tardy or absent from work may be struggling to keep a job that the abuser is attempting to sabotage. The neighbor whose partner texts her repeatedly during outings to the park may be under constant monitoring and afraid of being somewhere he doesn’t approve of. Often, we see these signs and know when something feels wrong even if we cannot describe exactly why.
We know how frightening it can be to know that someone we care about is being harmed. Time and again we hear from family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors that they want to help but they don’t know what to do. We also know that it can be frustrating when that person stays with someone who is hurting them or makes choices that we believe are not safe or in their best interest.
If you suspect someone you work with, live near or care about is a victim of domestic violence, say something. Find an opportunity to talk with them alone and share your concern. Let them know you can be a trusted person who will support them. Refer them to WEAVE where they can have access to 24/7 support, safety planning, confidential shelter and legal assistance.
Equally important, do not confront a suspected abuser. The confrontation could result in the victim being blamed and increase their risk for further or escalated abuse. It also makes it unlikely they will feel safe confiding in you in the future.
If you are supporting someone who is experiencing domestic violence, do so without judgment. All too often, the question that gets asked is “Why don’t you just leave.” The victim knows that leaving the relationship places them at risk.
As we reflect on the domestic violence homicides of recent days, a common element is that the victim was considering or in the process of leaving the relationship. A fluid safety plan that responds to the changing dynamics of that relationship is essential in helping a victim safely exit a violent relationship on their terms and timeline.
Our collective responsibility in building a community that does not tolerate domestic violence is to support and trust victims, hold abusers accountable and ensure quality crisis intervention services are available 24/7.
Beth Hassett is the CEO of WEAVE. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call WEAVE’s 24/7 support and information line at 916-920-2952 or go to www.weaveinc.org to learn more.