This Holiday Season, Learn to Recognise Signs of Domestic Abuse

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Holidays and the festive season are a great time to reconnect with family and spend quality time with your loved ones. However, this time can be exceptionally stressful for people who are in an abusive relationship.

Abusers use isolation tactics on their victims to distance them from their friends and family. This makes them easier to control and unable to seek help easily. The pressures of the festive season can lead to increased friction and, often, cruelty. This may make signs of abuse more visible to the outside world. For the women going through domestic violence, the holiday season may be the only period where they have the opportunity to reconnect with their loved ones, and break out of this lonely isolation.

At this time of the year, let’s keep our eyes open for signs of domestic abuse and provide support to loved ones who may be fighting a silent battle.

Recognising Signs of Abuse

Do you get the feeling that something is not right? That something is different about how your friend/family member is acting? Does your friend/family member appear:

  • to be acting more tense around her partner/in-laws/family member? Is she “walking on eggshells”, being very careful of what to say/when to speak?
  • to be more stressed than usual?
  • to possibly be depressed?
  • to be receiving a lot of derogatory comments from her partner?
  • to be detached and exhausted not only physically but emotionally?
  • to be covering parts of her body she wouldn’t normally cover (for example wearing a scarf inside the house to hide any bruises)?

Abusers are usually on their best behaviour when around their and the survivors family and friends, so that even if she decides to confide in them, they may not believe her or take her seriously. Do not be fooled by the abuser’s charming ways, it is all part of their objective to keep their victim under their control and isolated from any support and help. The abuser might be appearing to be ‘kind’ and loving over holidays around family but just because things appear less strained does not mean an abuser has reformed. Abusers, sadly, hardly ever change. Remember, anyone can be an abuser, and there is no one “type”of person that is or is not prone to abusing.

How to approach a loved one if you think they are going through abuse

  1. Approach her privately — Take her to a room or place where you won’t be overheard or disturbed by anyone.
  2. If she decides to tell you about her situation, listen in a non-judgemental manner and try not to interrupt her.
  3. Do not call her abuser names, but you can let her know that his behaviour is unacceptable.
  4. Be sensitive — She might be ashamed of what is going on. Bear in mind, that she might be scared to speak about her situation, fearing that her abuser may hurt her or even you if she decides to reveal what is happening.
  5. Give her space — She may have been threatened by the abuser and fear for her life. She may also fear that her children will be harmed or taken from her.
  6. Assure her that it’s not her fault — abusers tend to put the blame on their victims, convincing them that it was their poor behaviour that triggered the assault, that in reality they don’t want to hurt them, and that if they are more obedient, they won’t hurt them again.
  7. Accept that she may genuinely love and care about her abuser — after an abusive episode, there comes a period called “the . honeymoon phase” during which the abuser is particularly kind and caring in fear of losing his victim. Many women who undergo abuse, believe that this is their abuser’s true face, and that if they are good enough, he won’t go back to hurting them again. It is this loving, caring face that your friend/family member may have feelings for, so calling him names or accusing him in a heated manner, may actually cause her to become defensive and shut herself off.
  8. Tell her that you love her unconditionally, that she is not alone.

If she denies abuse:

Don’t pressure her. Tell her you care about her and you’ll be there if she needs you, when she’s ready.

What To Do Next

Your loved one may or may not know what to do, and may even not want to leave their abuser just yet. You can suggest some considerations to her to avoid domestic abusive episodes as much as possible. Some sample questions to ask her:

  • How can she feel safer at home?
  • Is there any room in the house that can be locked where she can resort to in case of an emergency?
  • Can she somehow modify the room where most of the violent episodes occur (e.g. kitchen, bedroom) so there is less danger to her (think about corner of furnitures and heavy/sharp objects)?
  • Are there emergency exits that can be used in the house?
  • Can she hide some dangerous objects?
  • How she can use technology to call for help? (Consider apps which send automatic message when you are in danger.)
  • What agencies are available to her? Police? Social Workers, lawyers, etc and how can she approach them?

Suggest that she keeps an emergency kit: a bag hidden somewhere (or with a person of trust, perhaps even you) with:

  • money for a hotel,
  • for a cab,
  • with documents such as her ID card, her marriage certificate, her birth certificate, her passport,
  • any other documents she can use to financially support her eg, ownership to land or a house, cheque books, a few clothes or some other important daily life documents.

If your loved one decides to leave, here are a few things/options she might want to consider:

  • The possibility of asking for a restraining order so that the abusive partner will leave the house.
  • Obtaining a restraining order and file for child custody if needed.
  • If your loved one chooses to leave the shared living accommodation, she will need the presence of a police officer so that she can safely get her belongings out of the house.
  • If she is staying in the house she used to share with the abuser she will need to change the locks.
  • A relative or friend should stay with your loved one for some time.
  • Children should learn the house address and phone number in case they need to contact the police.
  • Changing her phone number(s) to unlisted.
  • Changing her shifts at her workplace and informing her colleagues not to give the abuser any information.
  • Changing her route to and from work.
  • If it applies, then informing the school that the partner has no legal right to take the children as the case is being contested.
  • If the abuser is extremely violent, then the children should change schools.
  • Changing her usual supermarket, religious congregation space, etc.
  • Informing the neighbours about the issue and asking them to call the police in case they realise she is in danger.

If she decides to pursue the case legally, or goes to the police, ask her to read the How To Build Your Own Domestic Violence Case Without A Lawyer.

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