A happy new year for victims of domestic abuse?
Amanda Burston says none of us can 'save' someone in an abusive relationship, but we can be part of their recovery
Over the Christmas and New Year period, I was contacted by a friend who felt completely out of their depth when a young victim of domestic abuse arrived unexpectedly on her doorstep.
The victim was a family friend who had drifted away from her family and social group since her young marriage. She had given up her law course and appeared to settle into married life, giving it 100% and leaving little time for any other activities or friendships. Her Facebook had been deleted with an explanation of ‘leaving the past behind’.
On this particular day, she knocked on my friend’s door and entered silently. She was battered, broken and bruised, with torn clothes - a shadow of her former self. She was offered warmth, clothing, food, and the opportunity to sleep peacefully. They watched TV, talked superficially, drank coffee and even baked cake.
On day three, this young lady announced she was returning to her husband and to the abuse, even though she had disclosed that she had experienced repeated rape and abuse from him. My friend felt helpless, hopeless and that she had failed to protect this girl. However it is important to appreciate that understanding a victim’s journey is complex and requires courage and patience.
A victim can never ‘just leave’. This places the victim at far greater risk of harm, as the perpetrator will act immediately and aggressively to regain control.
In my friend’s case the victim had been given time to feel love, warmth, generosity and see and sense what a healthy relationship actually looks like. This victim will return to their abusive relationship with strength and a hidden glimmer of hope that there is an alternative. A victim may leave and return many times, before finally closing the door on abuse for the last time.
A victim feels no self-worth or self-esteem, no confidence or self-belief. As a friend you can provide safety, friendship, remain non-judgemental while listening and caring. You can believe the victim, reassure them and support their own decision-making. You cannot ‘save’ a victim, but you can be part of their recovery journey.
Helping a victim of abuse is difficult, frustrating and even potentially devastating. But it is also love, care, and hope, and those dreams may be enough to help a victim become a survivor one day.
About the author
Amanda Burston is major trauma co-ordinator in the emergency department at Royal Stoke University Hospital and RCNi Nurse of the Year 2015.