"Heather Smith Wolsey had tears in her eyes as she thanked Salt Lake County leaders ... 'You don't know it yet,' she said, choking back tears, 'but you've done a great thing ... ' Wolsey told of how she lived in fear of her abusive ex-husband, how she 'would scream so loud and he would hit so hard,' and yet she felt alone, wondering why none of her neighbors ever called police for help ... " KSL.com
Recently during a presentation on domestic violence, a participant asked, "What can I do if I hear my neighbors fighting?" The presenter pointed out that doing nothing is an action and then asked the woman, "How would you feel if your neighbor died and you did nothing?" Doing something about domestic violence is homicide prevention.
One in three women and one in four men will experience intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This means you probably know someone who is a survivor, are related to a survivor or have survived domestic abuse.
Here are six things you can to today to make a difference:
1. When you see someone being assaulted or abused call 911, then move to safety
Although police will have your number and your statement as a witness is priceless, it is better to call anonymously than not at all.
2. Know resources and stay connected to loved ones
When a friend or family member has unusual injuries and their story is inconsistent, ask questions or offer support. You don't have to solve their problems or move them into your house; just be a supportive listener and keep resource information like the phone number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline handy (1-800-799-7233 or 800-799-SAFE).
Remember, abusers are often jealous and controlling. If you write a phone number for a survivor, write something that will not get the survivor in trouble if found by the abuser. For example, write "Mary Kay" and then the hotline phone number or "Mabel Leadbetter, PTO President." Survivors may need to use a public phone to avoid leaving a trail for abusers.
3. Learn the signs
The Domestic Violence Shelter website includes common signs of abuse. Survivors are often isolated, make excuses to avoid spending time away from the abuser, wear long sleeves or other unseasonably warm clothing to cover injuries or the abuser may control their phone and money, making it impossible for the victim to use them.
Abusers may use child custody threats, withholding money or blackmail to control survivors. As a safety precaution, offer support, but then guide survivors to seek professional assistance. Experts can help the survivor leave safely and give you advice that will keep everyone out of harm's way.
4. Get expert advice free, 24-hours a day
If you worry about a friend or family member's safety and you're unsure of what you should do, you can call the same National Domestic Violence Hotline number survivors call for expert advice that is completely confidential.
Discussing your friend with people at work or gossiping about neighbors can actually increase the danger for a survivor. Local and national resources require confidentiality, so go to the resources for help and guidance.
5. Be a voice for abused children or children who witness abuse
When a child reports domestic abuse, call the authorities and report it to local police or child welfare services so they can offer support services to the survivor if appropriate. Many abusers also abuse their children. According to the Department of Justice, one in nine children witnessed domestic violence last year, and 90 percent saw the violence as opposed to hearing it.
According to Changing Minds Now, child exposure to domestic violence impacts brain development. Reporting child abuse or concerns does not necessarily mean children will be removed from parents, but if your local agencies are effective it will lead to an offering of resources to the survivor and safety planning.
Learning to identify domestic violence saves lives in the workplace, school, in our friends and families homes. True, calling for help has its risks. But, when you choose to do nothing, that choice may leave you with regret if the survivor or their children lose their lives.
Let us all work together to tell survivors we are here for them. Learn the signs, reach out to survivors, carry hotline numbers and protect children by taking action.