What can you do to help a friend who is being abused?
Christ declared that He came to heal the broken hearted, that he came to bind up what was broken and to set free those who are bound as prisoners. Abuse is a prison, a dark, bottomless prison with no light and no sense of escape. It is into this dark prison that Christ’s voice echoes, in order to set women (and men) who are victims of abuse, free. The reality is that as followers and believers in Christ, He will use us to help those who are hurting because of abuse. As a researcher and woman abuse activist, I find myself asking how I can help the abused women whose stories I am faced with daily. How can I help an abused friend or work colleague? So I went ahead and begun asking the questions that only abused women could answer, what do abused women need from those who care about them? I interviewed 60 women at random, in order to find the answer and I want to share with you how you can truly help another woman who is being abused.
The disempowerment of words
Almost 100 percent of the women I interviewed shared with me that they wanted to be supported emotionally and mentally; they wanted someone to acknowledge their pain and their word. They needed and yearned for someone to believe that they had been abused. Let us pause to think about this for a moment. In all our support initiatives and elaborate programs, which are all extremely important for helping abused women; most women just want someone to believe in them and to believe that they are telling the truth. We never stop to think about this, the fact that when a woman says she is a victim of abuse that not many people believe her. If the abuse is psychological or emotional, how does she show you the scars? How does she prove to you or I that she has been a victim of emotional abuse, that her self-worth and pride has been completely destroyed and that she is hopeless? In a world where we need to observe proof, how does she present it when it cannot be seen and all she wants is someone to believe her? The problem is compounded when abused women reach out to the criminal justice system, in order to be granted a protection order to protect her life against her abuser, she first has to prove her case! Again reaffirming the mistaken belief that a woman cannot be taken at her word, because her word is simply not good enough. Belief. An abused woman wants to be believed and supported; both emotionally and mentally.
Recognition is defined as identifying, noticing and showing appreciation for someone or something that is already known. In our case, you may have a friend or a work colleague whom you have known for a long time, she is the one already known and she needs to be recognized. Not through praise or glorification but for the person she is. Abused women are seldom recognized for the woman that they are, simply because that woman has been broken and oppressed, beaten down and disempowered. You need to recognize the woman inside of her, as a friend or colleague, counsellor or pastor; it is your responsibility to help her recognize herself by recognizing who she can still be and helping her “resurrect” again. Recognizing the reality of her situation and affirming your honest belief in her, is what she needs right now. Allow love to guide the way.
More than half of the women I interviewed indicated that they needed physical support for their situation. This is a hard place to be in, many women remain in abusive relationships because of finances, and this is reality. If a woman is a victim of financial abuse, her husband may have control of her salary, and may receive her wage or monthly salary directly into his own bank account. In this situation she has no access to her own funds and if she does leave she will leave destitute, without a penny.
Be sensitive in this situation. Most of us cannot afford to help financially, some of us can; whatever the situation be sensible and always seek to empower the woman you are trying to help. Investigate ways that she can take control of her own salary again; alternately investigate other options available to women who do not have jobs or finances. Women’s shelters may be the last option but do the homework and at all costs protect the privacy and integrity of the friend you are trying to help. Do not share her confidential story with anyone, not even a member of your church unless your friend or colleague has authorized you to. If you do share her story without her consent and it returns to her abuser, the abuse may get worse and may even lead to the loss of her life; this is also reality. It will also destroy trust and support, that your friend or colleague desperately needs, once again show the sincere love of Christ.
I do not want a thing!
Lastly, a few women defiantly told me that they simply did not expect any help, support or understanding from anybody; least of all family or friends. This was sad for me to hear and something that I have wondered over for some time. The reason for this is because research indicates that these same women, who expressed their desire for “nothing from anyone”, are also the women who are still bound in abusive relationships. The connection between not reaching out and remaining silent and continuing within the cycle of abuse is almost definite. I believe the reason for this is because we need one another, I also acknowledge the fact that many women feel guilty about their situations. Many feel that the abuse is their fault and that because they married an abuser they are responsible for making it work. Most of all what we need to remember is that the self-esteem of an abused woman is negatively impacted; this leads to feelings of helplessness. If you have a colleague, friend, mother, sister or neighbour who is being abused but does not want to open up about it, show her love and care do not pressurise her. Many times these women will have a moment of clarity where they realize they need to break free, it is then that they need to know that you are the one to turn to, the one who will be willing to help.
Being a friend and support mate to someone who is a victim of abuse can be challenging. It is hard not to get emotional about things that you hear and stories that she may share. Whatever the case remember the following steps, she needs someone to believe her, she needs recognition for who she is and for who she can be and if you are unable to help her financially or physically investigate ways in which she can receive outside help. Alternatively, if your friend or colleague is unwilling to share about her abuse, be present by showing her care so that when she does need your help; she will know who to turn to. Above all hold these hurting women in prayer; they are the ones who need it most.