What to Do in a Domestic Violence Situation: A Guide for Survivors and Supporters

shutterstock_246592810October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Ms. Blog will be publishing a series of posts detailing the impact of domestic violence, including personal essays and more, throughout the month.

If you are reading these words, then you’ve been affected by domestic violence. For some of you, these words immediately ring true. They speak to memories or current experiences, whether or not you consider these experiences to be an important part of your identity, or see them as “in the past” or separate from “the real you.” For others, the effects of domestic violence are more obscured. You might vaguely remember growing up in a difficult situation at home, but can’t recall the details. Maybe you’re in a domestic violence situation right now, but don’t know if your relationship “qualifies” as abusive. Maybe you know it does, but don’t know how to escape it without it affecting your entire life.

For the past year, I’ve worked at East LA Women’s Center as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This work usually entails answering calls to our 24-hour rape and battery crisis hotline. There are two kinds of calls I tend to receive: those asking for information about a specific resource or program, and those where the person on the other end of the line isn’t sure what they need or want.

The second type of call is certainly more difficult. Having been there myself, I recognize the strength it takes to reach out to someone, to share the details of your private situation with a stranger, to place your most fragile secrets in somebody else’s hands.

There are, after all, legitimate concerns with taking action to escape domestic violence. Abusers often isolate their victims from family and friends in order to remove their support network, making the victim dependent on them sos/he cannot leave without suffering great amounts of emotional and financial turmoil.

“What do I do?” a friend asks me about her sister who has just disclosed that she’s been in a domestic violence situation for over five years. There is no easy answer, and many who are inexperienced with this scenario might tell her to look the other way because it’s not her fight, to ignore it “for the sake of the family,” or offer vaguely to just “be there for her.”

Though often hurtful and callous, these responses are also understandable. It is ultimately the responsibility of the victim to extract themselves from a domestic violence situation. It has to be, because if the victim has not come to that conclusion for themselves through careful consideration, they will often return to their abuser. It is also possible that outside interference could aggravate the situation. The abuser, knowing that others know about their actions, might react with violence and further isolate the victim.

But while the victim must be trusted to make the decision to leave, this does not mean victims should be blamed for choosing to remain in that situation. Victims of domestic violence need support more than anything. They will not come to the conclusion that they should leave simply by hearing others demand that they do so, regardless of how well-meaning.

There are many reasons why a victim of domestic violence might stay with an abuser. One reason, mentioned above, is that the abuser may have isolated the victim from her/his sources of support to the point where the victim does not feel s/he can leave the situation without great difficulty.

Another reason a victim may choose to stay with an abuser is s/he may not recognize the relationship as abusive because there is no physical violence involved, a common misconception. Carmen Lorenz, volunteer and hotline coordinator for East LA Women’s Center explains, “A lot of men and women feel like for something to be domestic violence there has to be a physical situation, a bodily injury to one or the other, but domestic violence also relates to emotional and verbal abuse.”

In fact, because every situation is different, domestic violence can take the form of a wide range of forms of violence and control, including but not limited to: coercion; manipulation; psychological degradation; sexual violence; financial control; social abuse; and neglect. Abusers are often clever in their application of these tactics in order to trick the victim into thinking no abuse is taking place.

A victim might also say something like, “Well, he/she’s not always abusive.” And that’s probably true. You yourself might have witnessed their partner treating them very well only to later observe the relationship degrade into violence again. This is called the cycle of violence. A domestic violence relationship sustains itself by cycling through phases of tension building, conflict and resolution. This pattern of abuse/release from abuse lends an increasing sense of normalcy to domestic violence, where further instances of abuse can be absolved or outright dismissed.

Remember, everyone’s experience is different so there is no road map to escaping domestic violence. That said, as Domestic Violence Awareness Month draws to a close, I wanted to pass on some suggestions I made to my friend about her sister, to try to help those who are or know someone who is confronted with domestic violence.

If You Know Someone Who is in a Domestic Violence Situation:

  1. Don’t blame/judge the victim. Don’t re-traumatize the victim in your response to their situation. If you truly want to help your friend or family member, you have to demonstrate that you care. The best way to do this is to listen. If your first response is to judge the victim, they may not trust you enough to keep you informed of the situation. This could lead to them feeling isolated and unwilling to reach out to you or others in times of emergency.
  2. Offer your support. Do you have a place they can stay if they need to? Money they can use if their abuser has made them financially dependent? Are there other ways you can support them?
  3. Trust the survivor to come to the right decision. A victim of domestic violence may attempt to leave their situation many times before they finally succeed. They may go back and forth to their abuser. They will only finally leave for good when they are ready. Be prepared for this, and offer your support no matter what.
  4. Suggest domestic violence support groups, hotline numbers and other resources for your friend or family member. This will take the strain off the victim, who may be too scared or too isolated to do the research themselves.
  5. Do not confront the abuser. This can place both you and the victim in danger.
  6. Always dial 911 in an emergency.

If You Are in a Domestic Violence Situation:

  1. Don’t alert your abuser if you are planning to leave.
  2. Create a safety plan. Is there a way you can put aside some money, clothing, documents and other necessities in case you need to leave? Can you find a place to stay in case of emergency and alert a few trusted friends and family members? Even if you are unsure as to how the situation might escalate, it is important to be prepared for your safety.
  3. Join a support group for survivors of domestic violence: even if you are not prepared to leave the relationship, you can discuss your situation with other survivors and receive group therapy with trained counselors.
  4. Get one-on-one help: many domestic violence centers offer free one-on-one counseling. A domestic violence counselor can help discuss your situation, offer therapy and connect you to resources in your area.
  5. Call the hotline if you need help. Take precautions while calling. If your abuser checks your phone logs, try calling from a pay phone or a friend’s phone. Don’t call while your abuser is within hearing.
  6. Always dial 911 in an emergency.

If you are in a domestic violence situation or know someone who is, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-7233. If you would like to make a donation to support East LA Women’s Center you can visit our website at elawc.org or call 323-526-5819.

Support the Ms. Magazine Prison and Domestic Violence Shelter Program today and show isolated women that they’re not alone.

Photo via Shutterstock


Mirabelle Jones is a graduate of the MFA in the Book Art and Creative Writing Program at Mills College and a California-certified domestic violence and sexual assault crisis counselor for East LA Women’s Center. You can view the portfolio of her art and writing at MirabelleJones.com


  1. Adams angela says:

    Hello my name is angela adams and i was with my baby farther for 12 in a half years and he kept jumping on me blaming me its your fault i had to head but you its your fault. I had to punch you its always my fault.why but its never his fault.just last night he jumped on me punchig me in my face and he kick me in my stomach with steal toe boots.please help

  2. Nimisha RajpUt says:

    Hi my husband is drunker .and he use to beat me agter drinking.i have 6years old son.what can i do?should i leave him or stay with him?

  3. anna smith says:

    my name is anna. ive been with my partner for almost a year and expeting a baby in february. since we have been together he has put his hands on me aqnd said some mean things to hurt me, but he can be the sweetest person ive met at times as well. i have a very close family and now i have nobody. he controls what i do on facebiik and is always thinkin negative about me or thatim doing something. i cant keep living this way but im scared to leave for what he will do to me or his self. what do i do??

  4. Qing Meng says:

    It was 1:00am. My husband yelled to my daughter and me, didn’t allow us to use the heater. He took my daughter’s cell phone away and sealed the switch. I recorded what he was doing. I heard my daughter cried in the bed, she told me she missed gradepa and grandma,if they were here,they could protect her. What should I do to protect my daughter?

  5. I am a seventeen year old (almost 18 in a few days) with a five and three year old sisters. Our father in very controlling of my mother and I he has put his hands on me in the past but recently he put his hands on both my mom and I. Not only is he controlling but there is a lot of verbal and emotional abuse in the house hold. Once I am eighteen I plan on moving out but I am very worried for my mother and sisters I don’t know what I can do to help them get out.

    • Anna Goldy says:

      Pls pls talk to someone about this. I was in that situation too. Really, it doesn’t get better until you talk to someone. When I started college I started getting help and started talking to a psychiatrist. Get help. Taken to God. Pray pray.

  6. I need help. My father is verbally and emotionally abusing my family and I. I need help. Please someone help me

  7. In my relatiomship he would always put me down. He punched me in the face when i was pregnant with twins. He swore to me it would never happen again of course, i believed him. Well, nearly four years past, when a few weeks ago he was anxious, yelling at me, blaming me for everything on that friday night his father says supper is ready i go make a plate and sit with him and he throws all the food from my plate, he ate but he didnt allow me to eat. Later that night, i woke up all my things were scattered on the floor, my money was missing, my cell phone was missing, i got up from the bed and he was laying on the floor on the other side. I got up to go to the bathroom he followed, cursing my name, pertending to throw a punch then he laughed, he reached in his pocket and he pulled out my phone then turned on the water and threw it in the sink. I left the bathroom he followed me back to the bedroom he had my wet phone in his hands, he tells me you wont be calling anyone and he slams it into the floor repeatly. The following day, he again is accusing me of everything, he’s drinking becoming more agressive, he goes outside I’m in our bedroom i hear the door open, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed he enters and hits me on the left side of my head with the liqour bottle, he yells, screams pulls me by my hair, but then he leaves the room. I’m in shock because his dad did nothing but continue seeing his tv, bout ten mins or so passed, i hear him coming he comes straight at me and punches me in the face, i felt a warmth in my head within seconds I’m bleeding excessively it wouldnt stop my hands were full, my clothes was full of blood, i looked up and he was standing smiling then he pulled out two guns and puts one at the side of my head, he says, rose should i pull the trigger, i remember screaming STOP, thats finally when his father got up then my boyfriend pointed both guns at himself, then tells his father to pull the trigger, then suddenly he’s laughing on the floor, he gets up runs off. Bout twenty mins pass I’m still bleeding every where. His father left, next thing i know my boyfriend comes in, he says, he doesnt remember anything I’m yellimg at him to stay away from me. He didnt listen, i had no phone to call for help, he would not lend me his, once his father got back he wpuld not try to get me help either. The night comes again, another day without eating,, I was being held against my will, they knew i couldnt call anyone, the night progresses, I’m falling asleep he lays down beside me watching my every move. He makes fun at how bad i look, then he’s complaining bout how i got blood every where, on the carpet, on the sheets, on his phone, on his boots every where, i finally doze off, next thing i remember, is feeling a cold moistness on my arm i open my eyes he is pouring something all over my arm then he tells me he hates me so much, i got up went to the bathroom on my way back to the bedroom he pushes me accusing me of things, i make it to the bed i try to tune him out, I’ve lost so much blood my head is pounding, my face is in pain my jaw is popping. I fall asleep, i woke up to his hands around my throat his thumbs digging in the center of my throat I’m trying to get him off of me finally he lets go, i’m gasping for air. When i could i got up went to wake his father, his father asked him what he was doimg now, he pretends he’s doing nothing tells his father he’s going to take a bath. Well that morning his father tells me, rose are you ok, then his father says i dont know what he’s doing but i need to get you out of here but i dont know how. My boyfriend comes back and starts pushing me, kicks me, so i tell him i want to go home his father makes him call me a cab as the cab arrived his father is helping me get my things in the cab and here he comes yelling calling me names, i got away. Now i found out i wasnt his first victum, he has went to prison for this before. I love him yes, but he obviously never loved me to me thru such pain and I will never forget how he tried to take my life. I have trouble sleeping, i have hairline fractures in my face, my nose will not heal for 6 to 9 weeks, i have trouble eating he hurt my jaw, i have pain but i have my life, I will live one day at a time, slowly forgetting him because that kind of love we don’t need.

  8. Same thing was happening to me and I left with my bf, but now he is being abused too. I have nowhere to go.

  9. Anabanana says:

    I am desperate to help my good friend. Thank you for this site so i may vent. We are all ears but who’s there to hear us? I have gone through this cycle and finally my husband only though reinforced help is he getting the help he needs. I prayed and prayed for a higher power to guide me and my prayers,although not it in the way i expected,have been heard. Its a long process but he is getting help. Now my friend in a bad place right now. I will be by her side no matter what she decides. Thanks again for this outlet to share and be educated on how to help…

  10. I am a teen mom. I have a beautiful baby girl with my boyfriend. Ever since we got together and the baby was born we always had problems with him flirting with girls and texting them. I would confront him and he would always end up yelling at me. Recently he has started to physically hurt me and my baby sees this and she gets so scared and screams. He’s told me many things even that he’d kill me. After he hits me and yells at me, he starts crying that he’s sorry. I forgive him, but then a few days later the story repeats itself.

  11. The man who impregnated me with 2 children is living with us. He barely got out of jail 6 months ago. We all suffer from Stockholm syndrome. I have gotten restraining order that’s now expired. He no longer hits me or kids but is extremely verbally abusive. He threatens if I leave he will mistreat the kids( now adults). He has threatened to kill me when my youngest turns 18. He just turned 18 in November. I have no witnesses to prove this conversation. He is connected with authority figures and has gotten away with murder in the past. The police side with him and totally enable him to be a menace to society. I’d go to a domestic shelter but he will find us. I have moved far away and he still found us. I have reported him and officials cover up for him. He keeps having more babies with other woman and has convinced him that my bipolar got me talking cray. Now they moving hours away to get away. Maybe it wasn’t me. He is a monster and there is nowhere on earth I can take my kids that he won’t see where we at. I feel hopeless but I pray a lot. That one day somebody will believe me and the stigma of my mental illness will not be held against me.

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