Through my organization Saving Promise, I often receive mail from women seeking advice about domestic violence and how to break free from the cycle. I recently received one of the most basic yet poignant questions about domestic violence from a little girl named Angelina: "I know somebody who has been abused many times . . . How do you stop this when you don't know what to do because you are afraid of what might happen to you?"
Here is my response:
Angelina, if I had a penny for your thoughts, this world wouldn't be big enough to hold all the pennies I would give to you for asking a question that many people do not have the courage to ask.
Although there are many reasons why people stay in an abusive situation, or why someone may not do anything to help a loved one or friend, it really does come down to one thing. It's simply that oftentimes they . . . just . . . don't . . . know . . . what . . . to . . . do.; or better yet, they fear they might get hurt too. You've raised a valid question, one that should not be taken lightly.
There are many things I can say to answer your question, but let me first address the root cause of the problem:
Silence. . .
Silence is unfortunately at the root of the problem. For example, let's think about your friend's mother whose husband abused her. Though I don't know your friend's family, I know that perhaps her mother feels ashamed and embarrassed by the way her husband treats her, and she is also probably very afraid of what he would do to her or her children if she ever told. Therefore, she stays silent. I'm sure your friend feels very bad about what's happening to her mother, and she's probably also confused, trying to understand how someone could do this to her.
Your friend is very lucky to have you as a friend, someone she can trust. And I'm sure it's really hard for you too, because I know you want to help your friend but you don't know what to do, and you are afraid of what might happen to you. And you have every right to feel this way. You should be afraid. In fact, I think you were not only brave to ask this question, but your instincts told you that this situation is very dangerous. You are right.
But there are other ways you can help. You can help by continuing to be there for your friend. Next, encourage your friend to talk to a school counselor or a relative that she trusts. Explain to her that there are many people out there that can help her mother. For example, her mother can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE and have a confidential discussion with someone, and they can help her.
You may also want to talk to someone, too. Not about your friend's situation, but to learn more about what you should do if you ever get involved in an abusive relationship or want to help a friend. Finally, Angelina, while I don't know you, I am so very proud of you for being a good friend, and more importantly, for caring!
L.Y. Marlow, Author/Founder, Saving Promise