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Womens Center & Shelter

How to support her when she’s not ready to leave…

There are many reasons a woman may choose to stay in an abusive relationship—from conflicting emotions to lack of resources. While we want women to be as safe as possible, we also want women to feel in control of their lives and their decisions. That being said, we need to keep in mind that no decision ever justifies someone else’s abusive behavior.

Domestic Violence brought to the forefront in pop-culture…

R&B artists Rihanna and Chris Brown.
Media reports show a reconciliation between the two, which has caused much scrutiny and judgement among the public

A very public example of this is singer/songwriter, Rihanna, who is reconciling with Chris Brown. This is not a surprise to anyone who scans pop culture magazines in the grocery store. The two famous R&B artists have been back and forth since Chris Brown’s assault against Rihanna in 2009. Their cycle of abuse has been featured in magazines, talk shows (including Oprah), and countless media outlets. Their prominent status in pop-culture has brought domestic violence to the forefront of people’s attention. Although it is on a very public scale, we imagine that Rihanna is going through many of the same emotions and struggles that our clients go through when dealing with a situation like this. It is important to remember that Rihanna is not a spokesperson or a martyr; she’s a survivor. She has free-will and autonomy, and her choices will never justify someone being violent toward her.

As rumors of their reconciliation appear in the media, Rihanna has received support and scrutiny. Questions and judgments have come flooding in the form of articles, interviews, and comments, and many of these judgments are not toward the perpetrator, but toward Rihanna herself. This kind of victim blaming is not reserved for celebrities. Women going through intimate partner violence are often questioned repeatedly about their decisions, especially the decision to stay in or return to an abusive relationship. This scrutiny may make women feel less supported and distrust their instincts even more. Most importantly, it can make them more reluctant to reach out for help when the abuse starts escalating again.

As stated earlier, there are many reasons a woman may choose to stay in an abusive relationship. There are so many factors that play into the intricate web of an abusive relationship. Only the woman knows when she is ready and able to escape her abusive situation. We need to understand that leaving is not easy, and that this period of time is actually the most dangerous time for the woman. Support is crucial whether she is leaving or staying.
So how can you support someone who is not ready to leave?

  • Let them know you are concerned for their safety. It is ok to reach out and let your friend/family member know that you are worried and that you feel they are in danger. Abusive relationships often involve psychological and emotional abuse that can make it difficult to see things for as bad as they really are. Saying in a warm and caring way that what they are going through is not ok, that they deserve something better, can help to counter the negative and abusive messages they may be receiving from their partner.
  • Tell them they have people who can support them. It is ok if they are not ready to leave right now. But when they do decide they are ready, one of the most helpful things for a person is to know that they have a support network. Will someone believe them? Is there a safe person they can call? Where can they go if things start to escalate? Our Hotline is always available for women, 24/7. However, there is no replacement for having supportive friends and family members.
  • Give them resources. There are organizations like ours that can help women in a variety of ways. Maybe they are not ready to leave, but would be willing to talk about their situation on the Hotline. Maybe they would be interested in support groups. Shelter is just one of many different resources that are available to women.
  • Do not give them ultimatums. “Tough love” can backfire. Ultimatums like “Leave or we won’t be able to help you next time” can make people feel less supported. Remember, you do not know what their abuser is saying to them, and the added pressure and negativity can make someone withdraw.
  • Be willing to talk about the abuse openly. For many people, abuse can be difficult to talk about. It can also be difficult to hear about. Talking about it, though, makes it more real, and as hard as it is to hear your loved one disclose what has been happening and not be able to intervene, it is important for the survivor to be able to share those experiences without being questioned, pressured, or judged.
  • Practice self-care and seek assistance. Abuse does not just affect the survivor; it affects friends and family members, as well. While you are trying to be supportive, remember also to take care of yourself. Have a way to deescalate yourself when things start to feel overwhelming. Again, our Hotline is available for friends and family members, as well. It is a space for you to talk about how the situation is affecting you and how to manage the stress. 

A community of support…

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was born out of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s “Day of Unity” in 1981. It was originally meant to connect Advocates across the nation working to end domestic violence.

Yet, we observe domestic violence 365 days a year. The National Institute of Justice reported that over 20% of women and 7% of men reported being physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner in their lifetime, and physical violence is just one of the many ways in which abusers can control their partners. These survivors know domestic violence. Their family and friends know domestic violence. Their employers, the police officers, their children’s teachers, and their neighbors know domestic violence.

In addition to awareness, let’s aim for understanding and unity. Let’s stand by survivors of domestic violence. Advocates, social workers, teachers, city officials, friends, family members—let’s create a community where we are not only aware of domestic violence, but where survivors feel safe, supported, and free from judgment.

Women’s Center & Shelter Hotline: 412-684-8005 x1