Domestic Violence – What can you do?

This week our Philanthropy by Philoptochos guest blogger is the Department of Social Services Director Paulette Geanacopoulos, LMSW.  You may remember her from her Domestic Violence panel discussion at the National Philoptochos Convention in Phoenix, AZ. The presentation received rave views not only for the information that was provided but also for the depth of the discussion. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and with this in mind, Paulette gives us some tips for dealing with Domestic Violence when we are confronted with it in our communities.

During the month of October, Philoptochos asks that you revisit and renew your knowledge about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, more recently referred to as INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV)

IPV is described as the physical, sexual, or psychological harm or threat of harm by a current or former partner or spouse.  It does not require sexual intimacy and it includes stalking and cyber-stalking.  IPV can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and is an “equal opportunity” public health problem that occurs in relationships among adults, teens and college students from all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds.   IPV is intentional, it generally escalates, and its purpose is to control and manipulate the other person.  For additional information about domestic violence, its prevalence and impact on the Greek Orthodox community, please visit our website at:  We also urge you to download and print the domestic violence Fact Sheets found on our website along with the 24/7 phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and place them strategically in the women’s rest rooms of your church. 

Many of us are at a loss as to what to do or say if we think someone is being abused, or if a woman reveals to us that she is in a controlling relationship.  Because how we react is vitally important, today’s blog focuses on our responses.  But first, let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t interrupt her while she is speaking.  Don’t let your facial expression or body language convey doubt or judgment about what is being told to you.  Don’t tell her what to do or what you would do, and don't imply that leaving an abusive relationship is easy - there are no quick, easy solutions.  Don’t recommend couple counseling – whatever is said by the victim in counseling could be used against her when she goes home, and it won’t resolve the problem.  And, don’t confront the abuser, no matter how much you would like to, as you could be placing yourself or your family in danger, and you could be making it even more dangerous for the woman who has revealed to you what is happening in her relationship.  

You can help a woman feel safe by assuring her that you will keep her story confidential - and doing so. When she tells you her story, listen attentively. When she finishes talking, ask, 'How can I help?'  Let her know that you care, offer to help her develop a safety plan for herself and her children (a sample outline is on our website), and let her know that when she is ready, there are people and agencies that can and want to assist her.  She may not know (and it is important to tell her) that thousands of other women experience such abuse and that special shelters, services, and laws have been created to help them. Make clear that the abuse is not her fault, that she is not to blame, and that it is her partner who has the problem.  Let her know that she cannot ‘fix it’ or stop the abuse, no matter how much she wants or how hard she tries.  Only the abuser can stop the abuse.  And remember, if she refuses to talk to you today or says 'no' to your offer of help, she has her reasons. Express your concern for her anyway. Tell her that emotional abuse and physical abuse are wrong and she deserves better. Assure her that you will stand by, ready to talk or help, if she asks. Then give her time.

Here is a simple checklist:
1. BELIEVE HER. She will not lie about abuse. Many controllers are so charming and gracious to outsiders that what you see of his behavior may deceive you. Even if the incidents she describes seem incredible, listen to her story and respect the way she tells it. Because abuse is so painful to experience, she may recall details slowly and in disjointed fragments. The pieces may not seem to fit together or make much sense. Remember that the violence itself is arbitrary and irrational. So no matter what she tells you believe her and let her know that you do.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE AND SUPPORT HER FOR TALKING TO YOU. She has taken a risk: her partner could hurt her, or you could reject her. Let her know you appreciate what she has done.

3. LET HER KNOW THAT YOU CONSIDER HER FEELINGS REASONABLE AND NORMAL. It is common for her to feel frightened, confused, angry, sad, guilty, numb, and hopeless.

4. LET HER LEAD THE CONVERSATION. You can ask questions like 'How can I help you?' but don't expect her to have answers the first time she talks. She needs you to be a good listener. And if she asks you to do anything within reason, do it.

5. IF SHE ASKS YOU TO DO SOMETHING YOU CAN'T OR DON'T WANT TO DO, SAY SO. Talk it over with her, and try to find another way of meeting the particular need she presented, and /or another thing you can do to help. Be careful not to impose your ideas of help on her.

6. TELL HER YOU CARE ABOUT HER AND HER SAFETY. Take her fears seriously. Feel free to express your genuine feelings of concern with statements like 'I think you are in danger.' 'I'm worried about your safety.'

7. DON'T BLAME HER FOR THE ABUSE. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. But remember that her feelings about her partner probably are confused and mixed. If you express too much anger at her partner, she may feel the need to defend him.

8. OFFER YOUR HELP TO FIND RESOURCES IN THE COMMUNITY FOR PROTECTION, ADVOCACY OR SUPPORT – but only if you are actually prepared to follow through.  Please don't offer something you can't deliver.  If she wants to go to an agency or battered women's program, volunteer to go with her.  If she is in immediate danger, call the police. Always encourage her to get more support and information. Give her newspaper articles, books and pamphlets produced by your local shelter for abused women.

9. RESPECT HER PACE AND BE PATIENT. No one decides to give up a relationship overnight. Understand that for many women, they don’t want the relationship to end – they want the abuse to end.  She may also face threats and escalating assaults. So help her make plans, but let her make the decisions. As you plan, seek the advice of experts about abuse in your local community.

10. REMIND HER OF HER STRENGTHS, ACCOMPLISHMENTS, AND POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES. Avoid treating her like a child or a helpless victim.


12. REMIND YOURSELF THAT MANY COMMUNITIES STILL DON'T PROTECT WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Don't assume that police, courts, and public agencies will protect and help her. And don't be surprised if she feels safer taking no action. Do not mistake her strategy of doing nothing for passivity or indifference. Instead, find out what help actually is available for her in your community and offer to take her side with agencies, family, and friends. Try to find her a legal advocate from a program for abused women.

13. WITH PERMISSION OF THE WOMAN YOU'RE TRYING TO HELP, WORK ON EXPANDING HER CIRCLE OF SUPPORT. Find out if there is a support group for abused women at your local shelter or women's center, and encourage her to join. With her permission, enlist other coworkers or friends to help with childcare or go along to court. (You can support one another in your efforts to help the woman in trouble.) The more supporters she has, the stronger she may become.

Excerpted from 'When Love Goes Wrong', by Ann Jones and Susan Schechter, 1992 Harper Collins, Chapter 13 'For Family, Friends and Helpers'