Editor’s Note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

BY PATTI WEST

Domestic violence is an uncomfortable issue to discuss. Most would prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist or deny the degree that it does exist is great.

Millions of women and men alike experience domestic violence every year – and it is prevalent in every race, religion, culture, and social class. It is not only punching and hitting, black eyes, strangling and kicking. In fact, the accompanying humiliation, stalking, coercion, threats, and isolation can cause intense emotional scarring. It is financial abuse – stealing paychecks, withholding or controlling finances, and questioning every expense. It is extreme jealousy, keeping tabs online, nonstop texting, silent treatment, name calling, and so much more.

Gaslighting is a term often used to describe the behaviors of an abuser. Gaslighting is a very effective form of psychological and emotional abuse that causes the victim to question everything around them – their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. This gives the abusive person in the relationship the power and control they crave. Because this type of manipulation causes the victim to question their own reality, they do not question the motives and actions of the person gaslighting them. It is a dangerous action.

Experiencing domestic violence can lead the victim to experience heightened fear, increased anxiety, social withdrawal, unauthorized use of drugs (prescription or street drugs), alcohol dependence, and even suicidal ideations. These wounds received from domestic violence are devastating.

You can help someone you suspect of being in a domestic violence relationship. It is a delicate situation and must be handled with great care. Suggestions include:
 ♦ Listen: Find a time or place where you feel comfortable talking with your friend/family member. Let them know that you are worried for their safety and reassure them that you believe what they are telling you. Many times the magnitude of the violence may be exaggerated, but in the mind of the victim it is very real. Listen to what the person has to say. Validate them. Most of the time listening is more important that giving advice.
Offer support: Let them know they are not alone and that no one deserves to be hurt. Abuse is not the victim’s fault. Ask how you can best support them.
Provide resources: Encourage them to reach out to community resources. Connect them with crisis hotlines, support groups, domestic violence shelters, mental health services, or anything else they may need. Call the crisis line – 704-872-3403 – if you need info about resources.
Safety plan: A safety plan is a personalized plan that can improve safety while experiencing abuse, preparing to leave an abusive situation, or after leaving. It includes vital information tailored to this unique situation and will help prepare for different scenarios. It is often more dangerous after the person leaves, so be certain to consider what might happen in this situation.
Respect their choices: The first rule is to not attempt pressuring them into leaving. It is never that simple. There are so many reasons people stay in abusive relationships, and we cannot pretend to understand their individual situation. Offer support and resources, but it must ultimately be their decision. Don’t be judgmental or make them feel bad about staying in the relationship.

Iredell County has resources to help those in a domestic violence relationship. The Domestic Violence Task Force of Iredell brings together representatives from a wide variety of disciplines in our county. These individuals are deeply committed to working together to provide a safety net for victims of domestic violence.

My Sister’s House, a program of Fifth Street Ministries, offers shelter, therapy and advocacy. The name, My Sister’s House, is representative of my sister, Jean, who many, many years ago provided a haven for me, as well as much needed support and encouragement that was invaluable as I rebuilt my life with my two small children. She saved my life in so many ways.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and need information or assistance, call the 24-hour crisis line – 704-872-3403. Safety is available. Recovery from the effects of domestic violence is possible. You are worth it, and you do not have to do it alone.

Patti West is the executive director of Fifth Street Ministries.

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