Violence in My Friend’s Relationship

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Dear Dr. Jenn, I have a friend who I suspect may be in a relationship with a man who is abusive to her. She has a couple of children with him and I am also worried they might be in danger too. What can I do to help my friend? slide5Dr. Jenn's Answer - The media has focused attention and channeled outrage over Ray Rice's incident of domestic violence caught on tape. It also happens that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All of this attention is further evidence that our society is woefully unaware of the seriousness of domestic violence and the prevalence of this form of trauma. When it happens in such a public way, it gives us the chance to bring this issue to every person who is suffering in a similar way right this minute. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (, “One in four women (24%) aged 18 and older in the U.S. have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” Now known as intimate partner violence or IPV, it can include physical, sexual, reproductive, emotional, financial, and psychological abuse. Some of the signs that a person is in a violent or abusive relationship can include thins like: pulling hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting, or choking; name calling, insulting and continually criticizing; forcing the other person to dress in a sexual way; refusing to use a condom or other birth control; or giving the other person an allowance and closely watching how she spends it. The vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men, though there are documented cases of female-to-male and mutual violence among both straight and gay couples. The fact remains that when men are violent against women, the incidence of serious injury and death is extraordinarily higher than when the woman is the perpetrator. Go to for a much more extensive discussion of the prevalence and signs of intimate partner violence. Here are a couple facts to keep in mind: Fact #1: Violence in any relationship is never OK...NEVER. It is always harmful and always needs to be extinguished and punished. In fact, it is a criminal act to be physically or sexually violent against one’s partner or if any child witness such violence between adults. Many cases of violence go unreported and unpunished because of fear of retribution and retaliation as well as the fear of the stigma that comes with being in an abusive relationship. Fact #2: No one ever asks or wants to be abused. There is nothing that anyone can do to anyone else that warrants any form of violence. Unfortunately this message is not clearly expressed in many families or throughout our society. Many children grow up having witnessed violence and then experience it again in their adult intimate relationships. It is rare to meet a person who is or has been in an abusive adult relationship who has no knowledge of any violence in their own family of origin. On the other hand, many people who experienced abuse in their families as children choose not to abuse their partners and often leave relationships that have the slightest evidence that they may become abusive. Not everyone who grew up with abuse will end up in an abusive relationship. Fact #3: Get help. If you are in a relationship where there has been violence or you know someone who is, get help because there is a good chance that the violence will not stop and could intensify over time. Here are a few key steps to get help and safely leave an abusive relationship: 1. Get help. If you are in danger of injury or death and you need immediate safety for you and/or your children, call 911 to get the police to intervene and help you get safe. If you can run from the situation and be with someone who can help you call the police, run. 2. Find a shelter. If you are not in immediate danger and you have the ability to safely call for help, contact your local domestic violence shelter where they will have staff and resources to help you get out of the situation and get yourself and your children safe. Towns like Fort Collins, Colorado have Crossroads Safehouse ( with space for women and children to become physically safe and to access needed services to start over such as legal, family, and health services. Crossroads Safehouse also provides services like support, counseling, and legal advice for women who do not need the shelter but are ready to leave an abusive relationship. If you don't know where your closest domestic violence shelter is, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 3. Call a professional. Many women don’t leave abusive relationships for fear that leaving will put them and their loved ones in more danger than if they stay. While there are stories in the media of abusive partners flying into rages and escalating the intensity to frighten and control their partners, having a safety plan to reduce the possibility of escalation is critical. This is why professionals are helpful to be involved. Police, a therapist or counselor, the court system, and a safe house can all help to provide the support needed to get away and get safe. 4. Be a good listener. If you notice someone you love has unusual injuries and seems nervous about discussing them, try sitting down with the friend and telling her you are not going to judge her or think differently about her if she has something hard to talk about with you. Let her know you won’t force her to do anything if she has something bad happening to her. Together you can strategize the best ways for her to keep herself and her children safe. If she is not comfortable going to or calling a shelter, have her call any therapist in the community who can help her think through how to get safe. 5. Don't panic. It is important for you not to panic with your friend because the last thing she needs is more fear and trepidation for sharing details with you. Stay calm and grounded as well as supportive and loving. Together we can all help to erradicate and punish those who perpetrate domestic violence so that children and women grow to be the healthy, happy people they are meant to be. Contact us at Aspen Trauma Therapy Institute if you or someone you love has had trauma due to experiencing or witnessing domestic violence. What is one step you would be willing to take to help a friend get out of a violent relationship safely? Post your idea below!

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