1 in 4.
That’s the percentage of women who will experience some form of domestic violence, whether that means physical abuse, emotional abuse, or stalking.
1 in 4. Let that sink in.
If you have not experienced abuse, if you are not living it right now, that means someone in your friend circle likely is. And you probably don’t have any idea because women who experience domestic violence have incredible coping strategies. They could dismantle an atomic bomb with gloves on. They are that good at managing, smoothing over, avoiding, and hiding.
1 in 4 means that at some point, someone you know will likely share something with you about the abuse they’re experiencing. It might not be intentional; it might be a slip. They might not even realize what they’re experiencing is wrong because their partner has convinced them that they’re the problem.
Whatever the circumstance, you will find yourself in the position to be a friend to a woman in the most agonizing circumstances imaginable. Your role as a friend is critical. Trust me, I know. I was the one who let it slip. And the way my friends responded made all the difference.
Here are 6 things you need to know:
1 – Say something.
Don’t just brush that comment she made under the rug and assume all is fine because she lives in a nice house and homeschools her kids. Women in abusive relationships live in their partner’s echo chamber. I literally thought I was going insane because he told me he was. I had published a blog to a site I thought no one read – it described my ex screaming, swearing at me, and berating me because the Sunday School volunteers sent my child home with the wrong coat. A friend read it and immediately reached out; all she said was, “That behavior is very wrong and very disturbing. I’m praying. Let me know how I can help. You should never be treated that way.” Until she said that, it had never occurred to me that his behavior was wrong. I thought I was too sensitive and probably a pretty bad wife.
2 – Be patient.
I’d love to tell you that I immediately acted on what she said. I didn’t. It was six years from that message to the time when I moved out. Disentangling yourself from the web an abuser spins can take a long time, especially if financial abuse is present, especially if spiritual abuse is screaming that God hates divorce (taken out of context, by the way), especially when leaving means letting that abuser have partial custody of innocent children, and especially if the abuse doesn’t leave bruises.
3 – Don’t be judgmental.
Yes, she is enabling his behavior, but it’s also called self-preservation. The former term destroys – it makes her responsible for his abuse, which she is not. The latter acknowledges that she is making 1000 impossible decisions and often choosing the thing that makes the pain stop, however short-lived that might be.
4 – Listen.
If she has reached the point of talking, listen. It takes a long time for women to get ready to leave, and she will cycle back to the same old thing again and again. This can be incredibly draining, so consider setting up a network of friends so that there’s always someone to text, but maybe not the same person. There will be times where the answer seems so stinking obvious to you, but the collateral damage will be hers alone, and she has to make peace with that. When a woman leaves an abuser, there’s always collateral damage.
5 – Show up in practical ways.
Go sit with her while she files for a 50B (a restraining order). This is a terrifying experience, by the way. Watch her kids so she can talk to a lawyer. When she’s ready to move, rent the Uhaul. Let her stash prized belongings at your house.
6 – Stick with her, even when she wavers.
Many, many women leave, only to go back. Her reasons might be financial. They might be related to custody. Faced with the reality of letting my kids live part of their lives under the roof of a man who routinely mistreats them, I have frequently decided to move back and die there, rather than let my kids fend for themselves. Unless you’ve walked the road and made the impossible choices, you cannot understand. But you can be there each time she wakes up, until she finally gets free.
My friends are the reason I got out. They are the reason I keep going. I’m absolutely cognizant that I’ve taken more than I can ever give back, but I am so grateful. You can be the reason that 1 in 4 finds her way to freedom.