How Friends and Family Can Help with Dr. Donee Patterson, Director of Medical Community Outreach, Einstein Healthcare Network
Is it your sister, your daughter, your neighbor or your coworker? Or is it you? One in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “We define domestic violence as a situation in which one person gains or maintains physical, psychological, emotional or financial control over another person,” explains Dr. Donee Patterson, director of medical community outreach for Einstein Healthcare Network.
The NCADV reports that, every year, an estimated 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner, which means there is an epidemic of domestic violence in this country.
If so much abuse is happening, why don’t people know about it? “We often see the signs but don’t realize the extent of the problem because we think that domestic violence happens to ‘other’ people,” says Patterson. “Even if we have suspicions, the abuser does everything possible to maintain the illusion that nothing is wrong.”
What can friends and family do to help loved ones who are in trouble? First, recognize the signs of abusive relationships. Patterson lists a few. “The abuser may not let them see their family or friends, or talk to them on the phone,” she says. “They may not be allowed to have their own money, or be allowed to work at all. Victims may be withdrawn and depressed.”
Any physical signs are clear causes for concern, and Patterson suggests that family members and friends document them. “Volunteer to take pictures and note the date,” she says. “You don’t have to say, ‘We’re going to the police with this,’ but those pictures can be used as evidence in the future. It is also a way of letting the victim know that you see what is happening and you know that it is not right.”
Another way to help: pay attention to what children say. “Family should listen to the children,” Patterson states. “If they say, ‘Daddy pushed Mommy. Daddy hit Mommy.’ It may be that the kids overheard a normal argument. But friends and family shouldn’t ignore or dismiss what the child says. Find a way to ask what’s going on – without accusing either the mother or father. If the child repeats these things again and again, then, most likely, something is very wrong.”
Adolescents themselves may in abusive relationships. “The word ‘domestic’ refers to the home, so we don’t always think about teens being victims of domestic violence, but whatever word you use, it is abuse,” Patterson states. Love Is Respect, a joint project of the National Dating Abuse Helpline and Break The Cycle, reports that one in three teens are being physically, sexually, emotionally or verbally abused by a dating partner. One in 10 high school students has been physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
“We have to talk to young people about this – both boys and girls because both genders can be victims,” Patterson says. “They need to learn what healthy relationships are, what crosses the line into abuse, and – if they don’t want to tell a parent – where they can go for help.”
Patterson knows that there is help available for those abused and their families and friends. “Loved ones can call a hotline or go online and get specific information on how to help someone in trouble,” she explains. “Of course, victims can also reach out for help. These are very difficult situations. Reaching out for help is the first step.”
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800−799−SAFE(7233)
National Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474, www.ndah.org 
Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline: 866-723-3014, www.womenagainstabuse.org 
Women's Center of Montgomery County: 800-733-2424, www.wcmontco.org 
A Woman’s Place in Bucks County: 800-220-8116, www.awomansplace.org 
Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County: 610-565-4590, www.dapdc.org