When it comes to intervening in situations of domestic violence, most advocacy groups promote a single solution: Leave him and press charges. Advocacy organizations typically act as though they’re living in a binary world, fighting a battle of good versus evil. This script is only useful in movies.
It is true that domestic abuse can be especially difficult to treat, and in many cases, when the abuse is severe and abusers are unwilling and/or incapable of change, the only option may be to escape. Yet there are just as many situations where things aren’t so intractable, and other solutions are possible. Domestic violence is sometimes an isolated occurrence. It can be infrequent enough that it doesn’t completely control a person’s life. Finally, it is possible for people to change, and some perpetrators are willing to try. You can also change the dynamics of the situation to eliminate the recurrence of abuse.
Here are some examples of alternative solutions that have been successfully applied in other cases:
- Get the affected into couples therapy.
- Get the offender into anger management classes.
- Arrange a temporary hiatus or cooling down period, which can sometimes provide a shock that prompts the offender into change.
- Arrange addiction treatment or counseling for the perpetrator, victim, or both, to eliminate what is often the root cause of domestic violence.
- You could coach the victim on how to tactfully threaten to leave unless their partner agrees to make changes. (For safety, this should be done in a public place or with others nearby.)
- Set up some sort of informal mentorship or guardian angel program, wherein your husband or a male acquaintance befriends the perpetrator in a type of ‘keep your enemies closer’ situation, and tries to act as a positive influence or stabilizing force in their life, nudging their thoughts and behavior. Similarly, you could put together an informal guardian angel program where other male members of your social circle are ready to step in to mediate and prevent abuse.
- You could arrange some sort of formal intervention, wherein a group of people confront the couple in a loving, supportive way to say they’ll help in whatever ways they can, so long as you work to stop the abuse.
Because domestic violence thrives in the shadows, often times bringing its awareness to light and letting the offender know that others are watching and clued in to what is going on is enough to prompt change. The key to making this work is doing so in the least confrontational way possible, so that the offender doesn’t feel like they’re being attacked or marginalized. This is a tricky feat to accomplish, and if you can get professional help to guide you through it, I would strongly recommend you do so.
Of course, it’s quite possible that none of these things will work, and that the ultimate solution may be for the victim to make a clean break from their partner. But having worked with social issues for a long time and seen firsthand how destructive and misguided seek-and-destroy missions typically are, I find any philosophy that necessitates the destruction of people and relationships as its first course of action to be incredibly irresponsible.
How To Intervene in Situations of Domestic Violence
Here are some tips on what to do and how to behave if someone you know is being abused by their partner:
1. Avoid doing anything unilaterally. Just as is the case when dealing with kids who are being bullied, it’s the victim’s life you’re meddling in, and they have to live with the consequences. Therefore they should be involved in whatever decisions are made and actions taken.
2. Don’t behave badly towards the suspected offender. This is likely to make things worse for the victim, and also diminishes your power in the situation. Remember: domestic violence is driven by inner anger and personal insecurity. Therefore making the offender feel bad or treating them poorly only feeds into the inner demons that give rise to the problem in the first place.
3. Pledge your support to the victim in whatever ways possible. Be realistic–you don’t want to promise more than you can deliver. But often what victims need more than advice is tangible support. Give them your phone number and tell them they can call any time day or night. Offer a place to stay should they ever need it. Offer to drive them to work. Volunteer to watch their kids for free. Agree to take care of their pets on a temporary basis. Offer to pay for the first month’s rent in an apartment if they ever decide to leave. Aside from your emotional support, what victims of domestic violence truly need is tangible support that would allow them the freedom to make changes in their life. If you truly want to help, figure out what you can do to make yourself that pillar of support.
4. I can’t stress enough that domestic violence is often a product of stress and family turmoil. Therefore if you can help out in a way that alleviates the family’s stress, sometimes this alone will substantially reduce or even eliminate instances of domestic violence. You could…
- Bring over meals or groceries
- Watch the kids when needed
- Help with car repairs or household maintenance
- Help out with little things or stuff you have extra of (like dog food) that might alleviate strain on family finances.
5. If you know domestic violence is occurring, you should try to get all guns out of the house (if there are any). Again, this needs to be done as tactfully and gently as possible. Guns offer less-than-zero benefit for self-protection, and they are an incredibly dangerous thing to have around when domestic abuse is occurring. (See our book +Guns for Protection?+) They’re a danger to both victim and perpetrator, since one bad decision that’s made during a moment of anger will effectively end their life as well. Try to impress this upon them, and have them keep these weapons at your house or in storage for the time being.