By Janet Kozak
Data gathered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) shows that one in three women and one in four men will be victims of domestic abuse at some point during their lifetimes. For those that survive, these experiences can be horrifically shattering. However, the hurt can be made easier by the kindness of strangers, support of friends, and love of family.
The Qur'an notes that the oppressed call out to Allah for help and assistance from those around them. They ask Him to raise form around them one who can assist and one who can help.
Allah says, “And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” [Qur'an, 4:75]
If you learn of a victim struggling, and if you are placed in their path, you need to understand that Allah is testing you and putting you with them in order to help. Not only is the responsibility a test of your empathy and willingness to go the distance for that victim, but it's dare-say an obligation if you want to meet the demanding test that Allah has placed before you. Changing your perspective about your supporting role can make all the difference in how you approach it.
Doing the good opportunities to help others that Allah has placed in front of us is also acknowledged by other Prophets. In Surah Al-Qasas (The Stories), Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, after watering the flocks of the women at the well of Madyan, went back the shade of the tree and supplicated to Allah, “[…] 'My Lord, indeed I am, for whatever good You would send down to me, in need.' ” [Qur'an 28:24]
Pulling others to greatness
For those of us who may not be tested with the challenge of an abusive marriage or relationship, it can be hard to understand what an abused victim is going through. However, if we fully appreciate the blessings of the love, peace, and tranquility we have in our own healthy marriages, we should understandably want those same experiences for our brothers and sisters in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, urged us to wish others great blessings, and help them attain greatness as well. In one narration on the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”
In this hadith we're told that none of us will attain the greatness of full belief until we want for others what we want for ourselves, giving of what we have also been given, even in times of hardship to break through the “difficult pass” [Qur'an, Sural Al-Balad, 90:1-20] and never letting our neighbors go to bed hungry while our own stomachs are full.
Those Muslims in abusive situations often look first to their closest friends and family members for help, and then to the greater Muslim community. If they find what they need within us, then we can fulfill our covenant with Allah and get closer to full belief.
Supporting roles in abusive situations
While going through the thick of domestic abuse yourself is obviously life-altering, watching someone experiencing an abusive or violent relationship can also be very painful and upsetting. It's confusing when we don't understand why a victim stays in the relationship instead of getting out or getting help.
Many are thrust into the role of support person to a friend or family member in an abusive relationship. This may mean finding yourself in challenging situations, and experiencing mixed emotions about your role. Thankfully, there are ways to help a domestic violence victims survive and thrive from your position as support person – without losing your own sanity in the process.
Here are four ways to help a victim of domestic abuse while setting healthy boundaries as their support person.
Step 1 – Identify the abuse
The victim may be too close, and too emotionally invested in the relationship, to see what's really going on. A big part of helping victims involves both opening eyes to the abuse and showing alternatives.
Because of social constructs of what abuse looks like (thanks to movies and other media), many victims are simply unaware that what they're experiencing in their relationships is not healthy or loving. As a support person, it's important for you to help them recognize the abuse and violence for what it is.
There are many different ways that a person can abuse and oppress their victims, and not all of them leave visible bruises, marks, or scars. In order to help a victim, you'll need to fully understand all aspects of abuse so that you can help them see the larger picture of what they are experiencing.
There are various types of abuse in domestic situations that can include physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, digital abuse, and stalking. Learn as much as you can about all these types of abuse, and how to recognize them.
If you suspect a friend or family member is being abused you need to explain that you know and want to help. You can start these hard conversations by saying something direct like; “I'm worried about you because …” or “I'm concerned about your safety…”
Once the victim does open up about any of the abuse they're experiencing, tell them “I believe you” and mean it.
Step 2 – Make a safety plan
If you know, or suspect, that a victim is being abused, help them make a safety plan so they're prepared for emergencies and know what to do if the abuse gets worse.
A safety plan will entail making sure that the victim, and any children, know where to go and whom to call in an emergency. It will also ensure they have access to phones, packed bags, and important documents. You can download a blank safety plan from the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV).
Additionally, if the victim is uncertain just how dangerous his or her situation is, it's important to help them be honest with themselves about the threat. One great tool is the MOSAIC Method assessment. It's a test developed by Gavin de Becker, national expert on the prediction and management of violence, in the early 1980s. It's used by law enforcement, public figures, school administrators, and domestic violence victims, to determine the threat level of certain situations.
Help the victim complete the assessment, which takes about an hour, and print the results. These results can help shine light on the relationship, help secure restraining orders, and inform judges and other legal professionals as part of court proceedings.
Also note that if you're interested in building trust with the victim you should never report anything to the authorities without their consent. Abuse victims are used to being disrespected and violated so it is important for them to feel like they can trust you with their secrets and personal information.
Step 3 – Get educated
Read everything you can, attend volunteer trainings, join local and online support groups, and talk to other survivors of abuse.
Speaking with other survivors will help you put the situation you are helping with in perspective. Listening to other stories can help you better understand what the victim is going through.
If you volunteer at a local domestic abuse call center or shelter you may also receive comprehensive training and have opportunities to practice your new counseling skills with other victims. Being informed means victims will likely reach out to you because you understand and are supportive of their situations. When the time comes that your friend or family member is finally willing and able to ask for help, you'll be ready.
Once you understand their needs and are more knowledgeable, you'll be better able to offer help accessing the most pertinent local resources. Be sure to go with them to access resources, attend court hearings and appointments, and seek other help if needed.
Step 4 – Beat the burnout
Domestic abuse advocates, and even victims themselves, will tell you that it's extremely dangerous and hard to leave an abusive relationship. There are dozens of reasons for this that can include threats of violence, financial dependence, healthcare issues, nowhere to go, lack of support, cultural considerations, and a hold-out of hope for the relationship to get better, among other concerns.
It often takes victims as much as seven tries to leave an abusive partner. The most dangerous time for a victim is actually when they're in the process of leaving. If they try to leave, and end up badly abused or injured in the process, or back with their partner, they can feel embarrassed and fearful to try to leave again!
The timeline for abusive marriages and relationships can also linger into decades. It's important for support persons to understand this may be a long and ongoing battle. Support persons should offer as much as they can of themselves, while also being wary of burnout over time.
It's perfectly natural to get frustrated and fed up with your friend, family member, or loved one. It's also imperative to find healthy ways of dealing with that pent-up frustration and stress without acting out those feelings on the victim. Attacking a family member verbally or emotionally is not going to help them get free from their abuser. If anything, it will make them feel more isolated and alone and less likely to come to you, or anyone else, for help.
That being said, it's also perfectly acceptable to set healthy boundaries and be assertive in maintaining them. Even if you are on an emergency contact list, you can still determine how much of your time you're able dedicate to helping a victim. Perhaps you can set up a weekly check-in lunch date, or give them a call every Thursday night. Determine what works best for both of you and then stick to it.
If you need a break, say so and find ways to cope with the stress of the situation by venting to someone who does not know the victim. This may mean another friend, family member, or therapist. Practice the Ring Theory of Hard Times: “Comfort IN, Dump OUT.”
Taking care of yourself is as important as supporting a loved on through an abusive relationship. Practice self-care in addition to self-education, providing resources, and making time to listen to and support the victim in their struggles.
If you're in the position of support person to someone in an abusive relationship know the time commitment involved and be ready for things to get messy. It's not easy, but the rewards may be a stronger bond with your loved one, injuries averted, and a life saved.
The attitude of the chivalrous believer is that they never hesitate when presented with an opportunity to help others and relieve the oppressed or distressed.
Imam Nawawi, in his collection of 40 hadith, included that Prophet Muhammad , peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“Whosoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the griefs of the Day of Judgment. Whosoever alleviates [the lot of] a needy person, Allah will alleviate [his lot] in this world and the next. Whosoever shields a Muslim, Allah will shield him in this world and the next. Allah will aid a slave [of His] so long as the slave aids his brother […]”
If you, or someone you love, is experiencing domestic abuse, you can start by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the U.S. (1-800-799-7233), or 1-866-863-0511 in Canada for help and advice accessing local services, shelters, and other social programs.
If there is an emergency situation, please consult emergency services like 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.