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Developing Your Support System

Strategies for Dealing With Domestic Violence

Developing Your Support System

Talk to a Friend or Family Member
Talking to others can be an important step. If you've worked hard to keep the abuse a secret, you may find this harder than it sounds. Try to choose someone who will be supportive of you, who will validate your feelings, and whom you trust.

Sometimes people around you may already have a sense of what's happening and be ready to help. Often two heads are better than one, and another person may be able to point out an option or resource you haven't thought of or didn't know about.

When you are isolated, your abuser is in a better position to control you and the way you feel about yourself, as well as your perceptions about the abuse and your options. The more you can talk with others, the less power your abuser is likely to have.

Develop Other Involvements
Developing other interests or involvements is not always possible or safe to do if you're being abused. This can be very threatening to your abuser because it lessens his/her control over you. However, many women have reported that developing outside interests was important in feeling better about themselves, seeing things that were happening more clearly, and having a wider support system. Examples might include taking an adult education class through your school system, joining the local YWCA or a health club, volunteering somewhere, becoming involved at your church, or even going back to school or getting a job if you are not working.

Remember, you are the best expert on your situation, and you are the only one who can determine whether any of these activities are safe for you to pursue.

Call an Abuse Hotline
When you need to call a hotline, you do not need to give any information that you're uncomfortable sharing, not even your name. All calls to hotlines are confidential. The job of the people who staff hotlines is to provide support and information to you as you consider your situation. They can discuss with you the abuse, make you aware of options and resources, and help you map out a plan. You may want to get information about shelters and what it's like, just in case you need it.

If you're not comfortable at any point during the hotline call, you can hang up. Because everyone has a different style and there are many people who work hotlines, you may want to call back another time and speak with someone else. Some women call a hotline just once and get the information or support they need. For others, the hotline becomes part of their support system, and they may continue to call regularly.

Join a Support Group
A support group can also be part of the support system you develop as you continue to make decisions and take steps to deal with the abuse. There is no cost for most groups, and some have childcare available. They usually meet weekly and are at different times and days. You can call your local domestic violence hotline for information on support groups near you.

Counseling: Can My Abuser Change?
Many abuse victims wish to help their abusers, especially after the abuser has promised to get counseling. However, relationship or "couple" counseling is often both unproductive and dangerous. While abuse certainly affects the victim and the entire family, abuse is the sole problem and responsibility of the abuser. Many relationships could benefit from couple counseling, but it is very important that the abuser first address the abusive and violent behaviorindependently. If and when the abuse stops and equality is returned to the relationship, relationship or family counseling may then be helpful.

Many victims have reported that when abuse was present in the relationship, their abuser got angry and violent after a couples counseling session when something was said or discussed that the abuser did not like. The counselor will not be there to protect you at this point. Remember also that abusers are master manipulators - this is their way to control situations. As a result the abuser is likely to try to manipulate the counselor as well as the individual sessions - and in a couples counseling situation, they are often successful. Counselors who generally do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence may be easily manipulated by the abuser; counselors who are familiar with domestic violence usually will not participate in couples counseling because they recognize the danger.

Another problem with couples counseling is that abusers often perceive their behavior as the fault of their victims. Couples counseling helps to support the perception that the abuse is a shared problem - it is not: the abuser alone must take action to address the abusive behavior.

Some victims of domestic violence find individual counseling very helpful. If you choose to get individual counseling, it is important that your counselor understand the dynamics of family violence and abusive relationships. You have the right to ask a counselor questions about his/her attitudes and experience or training in this area before you decide to begin counseling with that person. It can be unproductive and even dangerous to be working with a counselor who is ill-informed about domestic violence. You can contact a hotline to get some names of counselors who are experienced with issues of abuse.

Remember that abuse is likely to escalate over time. You cannot change the other person's behavior, and the abuser's behavior is never your fault. You can only change yourself. You have a right to live in a relationship free of degradation and fear, and you have a right to choose how you wish to live. There are people available to help you realize a productive and healthy life.

Batterer Intervention Programs
There are programs available to help abusers address and change their violent behavior. Batterer intervention programs are usually conducted in groups with several abusers and a facilitator, and they generally focus on the abusers taking responsibility for and changing their abusive and controlling behavior. The duration of these programs varies. Some programs only involve 8 hours of group work, while others last up to 26 weeks or longer. An 8-hour program is not enough to make a significant impact on the abuser's behavior and attitude; the longer programs are recommended.

You can contact your local domestic violence shelter or hotline for a list of the batterer intervention programs in your area.

Abusers can become involved in a batterer intervention program voluntarily, or they may be ordered into one by a civil or criminal court.

Unfortunately, the general success rates of batterer intervention programs are very low, and it is important that you recognize this as you explore this option. This is not to discourage you from considering batterer intervention programs, but to prepare you for the reality of their effectiveness.

There is a batterer intervention program called AMEND which has proven to be effective with domestic violence. To find out more about the AMEND program, please call 1-800-540-4764.

Mediation is becoming increasingly common across the country in divorce-related cases. However, if you are in an abusive relationship, mediation can be dangerous. Mediation typically involves repeated meetings between you and your partner, which could put you in an unsafe or uncomfortable position. Mediation assumes that the two parties can work together as equals to achieve a mutually agreeable settlement; unfortunately, this is rarely possible in a relationship where the equality between partners has been destroyed by abuse. Mediation can result in physical and emotional harm to victims of domestic violence.

If you are court-ordered to participate in mediation, it is important to take steps to protect your physical and emotional safety:

  • If you are afraid to attend mediation with your abuser, make your fears known to your attorney, the court, and/or the mediator.
  • If possible, explore with your attorney mediators in your area, and chose one that has been recommended by local domestic violence programs.
  • Ask the mediator to go over with you exactly what the planned mediation will entail so that you can decide whether or not you feel safe and comfortable.
  • Ask the mediator if you and your abuser can be in separate rooms during mediation.
  • Ask your advocate or attorney to accompany you to the mediation sessions.
  • Establish a safety plan that will help protect you before, during, and after each mediation session (consider obtaining a civil protection order if you do not already have one).
  • Avoid contact with your abuser outside the mediation sessions.
  • Educate your mediator about the dynamics of domestic violence with brochures, etc. from your local domestic violence program.
  • Avoid agreeing to anything specific before consulting with your attorney.

Information on mediation was adapted from the American Bar Association's publication entitled The Impact of Domestic Violence on Your Legal Practice: A Lawyer's Handbook (1996), Deborah M. Goelman, Fredrica L. Lehrman, & Roberta L. Valente, editors.