October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and so we wanted to focus this month on safety planning. Creating a safety plan is essential. Friends or family who have a loved one dealing with domestic violence or as a professional investigator on a case all can help ensure victims have a safety plan in place. There are many victim advocacy agencies that can also help victims. A list of numbers is below.

NCADV has noted that on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. Domestic violence is more than just physical though. It can be financial, emotional, and psychological abuse as well.

It’s important when working or interacting with domestic violence victims that you do so without judgment. There is a level of sensitivity that is required when speaking with a victim and gathering information. It may take time for a victim to trust enough to disclose the information. Even seeking help a victim is putting their life and the lives of any children at risk. Extra care and support should be provided.

Listen and speak without judgment – The last thing a victim needs when they are finally ready to seek help is judgment about why they have stayed in the relationship so long. There are many factors why someone stays including financial, emotional, fear and often a lack of good options to leave. The scariest and most often deadly time for a victim is after they leave the relationship.

Help the victim find the pattern and be their note keeper if necessary – There is not always a discernible patter to when the abuse occurs but on occasion there will be and no one will know this better than the victim. Pay close attention to the timing of incidents. It’s not unusual to hear a victim say that at the end of the month when money has run out, the abuser will feel more stress and rates of physical abuse occur more frequently. For other abusers who may drink or have substance abuse issues, time around pay-day can be trigger days. Make sure to keep a record of the incidents the victim can remember, fully understand what happens before, during and after. Make sure when asking these questions they are not framed in a way that implies the victim “caused” the abuse.

Just be supportive – Sometimes the best thing a person can do is just be a source of safety and support while the victim works though the situation. There are times when you want so badly to help but your hands are tied. It’s easy to become frustrated and give up on the victim or even angry if they don’t leave when you want them to. Understand the victim needs to work through the process and only they know the right time to leave. In the meantime, showing support is one of the best things you can do.

Ensure safety – Safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. These are highly volatile cases and can lead to serious injury or death for the victim, for investigators and even family and friends. Precautions and extra support for the victim should be encouraged. Take a moment to view the great resources by the Domestic Violence Resource Center and their safety planning tools.

Domestic Violence and Victim Service Resources

National Center for Victims of Crime http://www.victimsofcrime.org/

National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards http://www.nacvcb.org/

Women’s Law http://www.womenslaw.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673

National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-6264

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273- 8255