In Greene County, every single day a woman is beaten. Not just punched once — beaten.
After reading the first part of the Springfield Daily Citizen’s four-part “Living in Fear” series on domestic violence, I am shocked to know this rampantly continues in our community.
Working for six years with foster youth, I’d hear females share how their boyfriends got angry — out of control — and that’s why they had cuts and bruises on their face and body. They usually attempt to defend the guy by adding, “He was having a bad day, and I just happened to be the one he decided to take it out on.” I wanted to say, “Seriously? You’re explaining away such violence as acceptable?”
Sadly, many children grow up in a culture where beatings are the norm. The mother and children receive the brunt of the Dad’s anger, and beatings become generational behaviors. Some reading this may quickly point out that it’s not just women who experience domestic violence, and you’re correct. In rare cases, the male is beaten by a female; it does happen. In my lifetime, I’ve known of one case. Female or male, abusive behavior of any kind is reproachable, and violence to another person should be unthinkable.
Actually, for most victims, the “unthinkable” is sharing their plight with others.
Coming alongside family and friends
How can we come alongside those we have reason to believe might be experiencing domestic violence? Perhaps the first step is having a conversation with those you are close to. Ask, “Are you experiencing any kind of domestic abuse?” Whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional, mental, or sexual, abuse isn’t always outwardly seen.
Share that you will occasionally ask a simple question that covers any abusive categories: “Are you good?” Have an agreement with your family and friends that this simple phrase, “Are you good,” allows them to truthfully say yes or no. To some, abuse is full of shame; therefore, many hide behind their abuse, hoping and praying it goes away. Until the abuser recognizes and acknowledges his or her abuse and seeks help, it won’t change. The victim, dejected and devalued, typically feels trapped and isolated. This is why we must start conversations with those we are close to.
If there’s ever an abusive situation among people special to you, they will know the phrase and have the trusted confidence to say, “I’m not good.”
Often the victims do not have a close and trusted friend or family member to confide in; therefore, the abuse continues in isolation. However, most victims have neighbors, and although we may be hesitant to approach the topic of domestic violence, we must do so. Victims feel trapped and afraid of what the abuser might do if the abuse is exposed. Children may be in the home, and the victim could be frightened at the thought of what will happen to the children if she seeks help. Also, many do not have resources to flee or a safe place to run to. Bottom line — the victim feels helpless until she finds a trusted individual and has a safety plan in place.
Hand signals allow victims to secretly convey the risk of harm
DomesticShelters.org provides great details on two hand signals that allow victims to secretly convey that they are in harm and feel trapped. The campaign, developed with support from the Women’s Funding Network, can be used in person or on video calls to convey they need help.
One signal is performed by covertly raising the palm of your hand to face the camera or individual, tucking in the thumb, and secondly, lowering your fingers to cover it. This signal can be casually done while talking or responding to someone.
When you see the hand signal, stay calm and keep the victim’s safety in mind. If able, ask questions that allow the victim to answer with a simple yes or no in order to continue the conversation.
- “Do you want to get together today?” If yes, “How about right now ?”
- “Are your kids home?” If not, “How long will they be gone? Do we have time to grab some coffee?” If yes, “Let’s take them to the park or a play area.”
- “Have you been to this new coffee shop?” If not, “We have to go today. I’ll get my car right now to pick you up.”
DomesticShelters.org shares questions you can cover when having a safe and private conversation with the victim:
- Do I need to call 911?
- Can I be a part of your safety plan?
- Can I call a shelter for you?
- Do I need to keep searching for services for you and your kids?
- How can I best come alongside you?
- Do you have any extra money?
- How else can I support you?
Create other life-saving signals that your friend or neighbor knows. These coded signals convey that the victim needs rescuing. For example, create a coded text message the victim can send like, “Do you still use curling irons?” Or another code such as, “If I call, let it ring once and hang up, then please come over and check on me.” Lastly, a code could be texting a predetermined picture that signals the need for help. Find agreeable codes that you both feel confident in using.
Ask others about the Living in Fear series
The first conversation is always the hardest. Here’s a suggestion on how you begin the “abuse” conversation with family and close friends, “I read this article about domestic violence and it prompted me to be proactive in approaching a tough subject with friends and family, plus my neighbors. The domestic violence series was very insightful. I also learned that a simple ‘Are you good?’ question allows us to stay in check with any kind of abuse.”
If you’re speaking to a neighbor, get the small talk out of the way then transition to the “pact ” you’ve made with your family and close friends. Share the hand signals and the “Are you good?” phrase. How your neighbor responds to the conversation will provide insight to their situation.
Your willingness to ask these tough questions and follow up with “Are you good?” may just save someone’s life.
Living in Fear: Resources for where to get help, or how to provide help
A collection of local resources related to domestic violence in Springfield and Greene County.