Friends are one of the first people victims of domestic violence turn to for help, no matter where they are from. Your role as a silent supporter and source of comfort cannot be underestimated in an environment where there are few resource for women who are victims of domestic violence.
Here are some practical things you can do if you have a friend suffering from domestic violence:
1. Know what it is
Knowing what is considered abuse is necessary. Abuse includes slapping, punching, kicking, cursing, insulting and humiliating. None of this behavior is acceptable, especially in a relationship which is meant to foster love and mercy, and where children are seriously affected by their parents' behavior.
2. Listen to her
This is one of the most important things you can do. Remember that your friend confiding in you while they have kept this problem a secret from others. Find a quiet place where you can talk safely and without interruption or at least contact her on the phone if getting around is difficult.
3. Believe her
It's very important to trust that your friend is telling you the truth. You must not deny that it is happening, since this denial is, in many cases, what your friend's husband, family and the community are already telling her. No one believes that she is being abused. Or if they believe her, they may think she deserves it.
4. Tell her she is not to blame
In many places, whether it is East or West, people blame a woman who is abused by her husband. They say the only reason she was beaten by her husband was because she deserved it for something she did to displease her husband. This, however, is never an excuse for abuse, in whichever part of the world you live in. While couples can and do differ, disagree and have arguments, to beat, slap, punch, etc. is unacceptable.
5. Emphasize her ability to handle this situation
Build up your friend's courage. Show her that you respect her and her ability to handle and cope with this situation. This will give her low self-esteem a needed boost, and could, in turn, give her the strength to deal with the situation.
6. Talk about consequences
Instead of advising her exactly what to do, be clear about what options exist for her and the consequences of certain actions. For instance, mention that if the victim does not seek help, she is exposing her kids to abuse as well. Just spell out the options without forcing her to take a specific step.
7. Discuss safety
If you are living in a place where there are some trustworthy women's centers or shelters, take your friend to them. If not, see if you can work out another arrangement where your friend can find a safe place to stay when things get really dangerous at home. It could be a friend of yours whom you trust and is willing to open her doors. It could be a religious institution. Try to find alternatives.
8. Encourage authority figures to discuss the problem
Whether it's an Imam, a writer, a radio personality, or some other authority figure, bring up the issue with this individual and explain how pervasive and dangerous it is, using your friend's example without giving her name. Encourage them to discuss the problem openly and to condemn it in sermons, articles, lectures, etc. This discussion will bring the issue to the public's attention and will then have to be dealt with.
9. Keep in contact with your friend regularly
Isolation means danger for the victim of domestic violence. If she is isolated, the abuse is more likely to get worse because there is no one to challenge or hear about it. Make sure to keep in touch, ideally through personal visits, or at least phone calls.