How Can I Help?

As family violence reaches epidemic proportions, more of us are affected in a very personal way. Estimations are there is an incidence of physical violence in half of all relationships. Historically society pressured victims to solve their problems by leaving the relationship. Much of this pressure still exists, but is unhelpful and ineffective.

Women and sometimes who are being abused are intensely ambivalent. Typically, they love their partner and do not want to leave the relationship. However, they do want to stop. By taking a coercive approach and saying "Leave!" the ambivalence decreases and the defense of the relationship and the perpetrator increases. This makes it more likely that the cycle of violence to continue. An abused person is considering the dilemma constantly, but no one can force them to pass more quickly through the steps away from abuse. Sometimes a victim leaves and then returns, but they change with the experience and are really not the same. Violence will return as it always does, but the experience of leaving is important. Leaving produces profound changes in the victimís life. All of us who try to diet, exercise more or quit smoking can testify to the difficulty of making these relatively small lifestyle changes. Returning to an abusive relationship, can be a relief from the stresses of change. One must understand this process of leaving, before it is actually possible.

The most important aspect of helping and supporting an abuse victim is concern for their safety. Whether they leave or stay, planning for safety is Goal #1. Safety is a complex issue. Always seek professional guidance in safety planning. Finding assistance with the vast number of community resources can be found on the web site www:ci.sat.tx.us./sapd/SAFamily.htm and victims advocacy program at the San Antonio Police Dept. by calling 207-2141. For emergencies call 911. Understanding the options regarding safety are important, because more people are killed during the initial separation period.

Victims of abusive relationships also need good information about power and control relationships and the patterns of abuse. They need to know that the abuse is not their fault and that no one has the right to treat them abusively. These statements can have a powerful impact on victims and are far more empowering than directives to leave. One can compare an abusive relationship to a rose garden. The rose is a wonderful fragrant flower, but one has to be quite careful of the thorns on the stems. There are some positive aspects to these relationships, they are not all bad. Safety has to be the most important concern. Because family violence continues to be a dangerous and pervasive threat in our community, we need to recognize violence and proceed armed with information and real assistance for the victims.

Joan Wells, L.P.C. is a certified domestic violence counselor in private practice. For more information call 681-9153 office or 203-2057 pager/voicemail.