In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kate McGuinness offers advice on how to help a victim.
Susie comes to my home regularly to help with cleaning. About a year ago, her usual helper took a different job. When Susie asked if her adult daughter Gay could come instead, I agreed.
Gay appeared for the first time the following week with a black eye and missing teeth. Her mother made a vague reference to Gay’s “accident,” and I assumed she meant an automobile accident.
Months passed. One day Susie appeared alone and asked if I had heard from Gay. When I responded that I hadn’t, Susie explained her daughter’s situation.
Gay’s partner, who calls himself “Master Howard,” had telephoned Susie the prior weekend and informed her that Gay was “done with her.” Gay would no longer work with her or associate with her. Howard also decreed that Gay would no longer see her teenaged son who lived with Susie. Susie explained that Howard routinely takes Gay’s pay and screens her calls. And, yes, Gay’s injuries when I first met her had been caused by “Master Howard.”
Howard appears to be the stereotypical perpetrator of domestic violence: a man determined to control his victim. He uses the classic techniques of separating the victim from her family and controlling her financially.
Once Susie confided about Gay’s situation, she explained that all three of her husbands had been physically abusive. Gay had grown up seeing this. My heart ached for both women, but I was flummoxed about what to do.
I had Gay’s cell phone number and, with Susie’s consent, I called her. Of course, all I got was her voice mail. I stumbled through a bland message about being sorry she couldn’t work that day and said I hoped to see her the following week.
But I didn’t. Not that week or any of the subsequent weeks.
Neither Susie nor her grandson has heard from Gay either. I have struggled with what I can do to help Gay.
An Internet search yielded the following advice on how to help a victim of domestic violence. Men can be victims of domestic abuse, too, but because I am focused on Gay, I’ve used feminine pronouns.
1. Let the victim know you care and are willing to listen. Don’t force the issue of abuse.
2. If the victim talks about the abuse, assure her that you believe her, the abuse isn’t her fault, she doesn’t deserve abuse and help is available.
3. Tell the victim you think she might be in danger.
4. Give the victim the telephone numbers of local and national domestic violence resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Number is 1(800)799-7233.
5. Ask the victim what you can do to help, but don’t make promises you won’t keep.
6. Don’t tell the victim what to do. This could sound like control, something the victim has already had too much of.
7. Help the victim think through a plan of what she would do if she decided to leave.
8. If you witness abuse, immediately call: 9-1-1.
I wish I could tell you I was able to use the steps to help Gay. I have called her cell and left more vague messages, none of which have been returned. Susie has seen Gay in the street, but they haven’t spoken. I take comfort in knowing that at least she is alive.
I wonder if I was willfully blind when I accepted Susie’s initial explanation of Gay’s injuries as an accident; Susie was her mother after all. I wish now that I had asked more questions. Maybe Gay would have confided what was going on, but I doubt it.
I’ve turned my frustration at being unable to help Gay into writing this blog. (As you may have guessed the names used are all pseudonyms.) I can only hope the information I’ve offered will help another victim of abuse.
Kate McGuinness is a lawyer who spent 17 years at Biglaw before becoming the general counsel of a Fortune 500 corporation. After leaving that position, she studied creative writing and is the author of a legal suspense novel Terminal Ambition, which is available on Amazon.com. She is an advocate for women and tweets as @K8McGuinness.