In the United States, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute on average. Every nine seconds, a woman is beaten. One in 15 children is exposed to domestic violence each year, 90 percent of them as eyewitnesses. Many of us know a domestic violence victim, but offering our help can be complicated — and dangerous.
The disturbing statistics point to an epidemic in the country that so often does not get the attention it deserves.
Take Melissa Dohme, for example. Now a vocal advocate for domestic violence awareness, the 23-year-old was in a highly abusive relationship in her teenage years that culminated in her near death.
Speaking to A Plus in an interview, Dohme said each time her ex-boyfriend had become violent, he threatened her life, her mom's and his if she spoke up. "I was terrified into silence," she recalled. "He would strangle, push, scare me, threaten me, take my phone and keys."
She finally ended the relationship, but three months later he called, pleading for her to meet so they could have closure. Dohme relented. Once outside, he stabbed her 32 times on the neck, face, head, and arms. She suffered a stroke; a fractured skull, nose and jaw; and facial paralysis, among other things. Miraculously, Dohme survived.
But this sort of abuse happens to 1 in 3 women around the world today. Considering its potentially deadly consequences, what can those on the outside do to help a victim of domestic violence?
Recognize that domestic violence also involves emotional and psychological abuse.
Domestic violence isn't just physical. Often, the abuser manipulates the victim into thinking he or she has no self-worth and instills fear and dependence in the victim.
"Everything your abuser is telling you is a reflection of them, not you," Dohme said, recounting her experience. "I see a lot of abuse almost as like brainwashing — that's how I felt."
Help them understand that their abuser won't change.
Many victims feel that if they become better partners, their abuser will stop his or her violent behavior. That belief perpetuates what the abuser wants their victims to believe: that the violence is somehow their own fault.
"The only person you can change is yourself, no matter what you think," Dohme said. "You can't love the person out of abuse. Some people think it's just going to get better, 'if I love them more, give them more' — abuse is never your fault."
Arm them with resources for help.
Many communities have a domestic violence center where survivors can seek help, including national 24-hour hotlines such as the Safe Horizon that provide support and connect them with other survivors.
So even if you know someone who is not ready to leave despite your pleas, make sure that they at least know of places they can go to for help.
Be there for them, even if they won't listen to you.
"Abusers thrive in isolation and silence," Dohme said. Even if you feel helpless because someone being abused is not listening to your advice, don't give up on them.
"There's so many layers of abuse. It's so important to extend your hand, show them the red flags and how deadly it can be," she added. "Leave that arm of communication open because when it is cut, that's when the abuse takes on another level. Love and support them; tell them, 'I don't agree with your relationship choices, but I'm your friend and I'm here if you need me."
Encourage them to share their story.
Difficult as it may be, speaking up could ultimately help others, too. Dohme said that sharing her experience was deeply healing and that she found a way to forgive her abuser. She also connected with other domestic violence survivors, which helped her realize that she wasn't alone in this.
With support from friends, family and a community, Dohme is now thriving. She is a full-time student, an advocate, and happily engaged to the EMT who was on call on the night of her attack and helped save her life.
Cover image via iStock / AtnoYdur