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How Can I Help?

Ten Things Families and Friends Can Do
How Co-workers Can Help
How Medical Professionals Can Help

Ten Things Families and Friends Can Do

From: To Be and Anchor in the Storm, A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women by Susan Brewster.

  1. Believe her. Most battered women don’t lie or exaggerate their abuse.
  2. Recognize that emotional abuse is truly abuse.
  3. Open ears; shut mouth. You can’t be listening when you are talking.
  4. Respect her decisions; don’t judge her. Don’t give advice; giving advice tends to take away her power.
  5. Ask open-ended questions. Ask her to clarify what you don’t understand. Try to understand not just the words she speaks, but what she is attempting to convey to you – the meaning between the lines.
  6. Be a mirror. Reflect her statements back to her. This lets her know you are really listening and trying to understand her.
  7. Speak only for yourself, not for her. Express only your feelings and observations, not your beliefs.
  8. Support without over-controlling. Control yourself, not her.
  9. Be patient. The establishment of trust can’t be forced.
  10. If she lives in Brevard County, give her Serene Harbor’s phone number, 321-726-8282. Outside Brevard, give her The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline 800-500-1119 Outside Florida give her the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Note: In this book, female gender is used because domestic abuse is predominately waged against women. Serene Harbor recognizes and provides services to all people regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, culture or religious beliefs.


How Co-workers Can Help

  • Be alert to possible signs of domestic abuse: changes in behavior and work performance, lack of concentration, increased or unexplained absences, placing or receiving harassing phone calls, unexplained bruises or injuries or explanations of injuries that just don’t add up.
  • Believe the survivor if she or he discloses the abuse.
  • Listen without judging. Survivors believe her or his abuser’s negative messages and feel responsible, ashamed, and afraid they he or she will be judged.
  • Tell the survivor that she or he does not deserve to be abused and that help is available. Give the survivor Serene Harbor’s 24-hour HELPLINE, 321-726-8282
  • Call someone from your Employee Assistance Program for confidential advice and resources.


How Medical Professionals Can Help

When screening patients for domestic violence, the goal is to validate and empower the survivor while attending to the immediate health concerns. It is vital that the medical professional create an atmosphere sensitive to a survivor’s need to be respected and taken seriously.

  • Screen patients in a confidential setting, separate from the abuser
  • Phrase questions in a non-judgmental way.
  • Tell survivors they do not deserve to be abused. Offer support and safety. Encourage survivors to make their own choices and decisions.
  • Medical personnel should assess their own attitudes and perceptions regarding domestic violence to ensure objectivity.

During medical screening of all patients, medical personnel should look for the following warning signs of domestic abuse:

  • Fearful, ashamed, evasive or embarrassed behaviors
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reluctant to speak or disagree in front of the abuser
  • Fails to make direct eye contact
  • Patient or abuser minimizes extent of injuries
  • Abuser insists on accompanying patient, answers all questions, and refuses to leave the treatment area
  • Abuser displays jealousy, obsession, or possessiveness


  • Contusions, abrasions, lacerations, fractures and sprains
  • Injuries to the head, neck, chest, breasts, and abdomen
  • Injuries during pregnancy
  • Multiple site injuries
  • Repeated or chronic injuries
  • Injuries inconsistent with explanation of cause

Other medical findings may present themselves:

  • Chronic pain, psychogenic pains, or pain due to diffused trauma without visible evidence
  • Physical symptoms related to stress, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorder, or depression, including threats of suicide or past attempts
  • Chronic headaches
  • Abdominal and gastrointestinal complaints
  • Palpitations, dizziness, and atypical chest pain
  • Gynecological problems, frequent vaginal and urinary tract infections, and pelvic pain
  • Frequent use of prescribed minor tranquilizers, or pain medication
  • Frequent visits with vague complaints or symptoms without evidence of physiologic abnormality

During Pregnancy:

  • Injuries or unexplained pain to the breast, abdomen, and genital area
  • Substance abuse, poor nutrition, depression, and late or sporadic access to prenatal care
  • “Spontaneous” abortions, miscarriages, and premature labor
  • Fetal risks, including low birth weight, stillbirth, pre-term infant, fetal fractures

Other signs of abuse:

  • Abuser limits victim access to routine or emergency medical care
  • Noncompliance with prescribed treatment regiments
  • Inability to obtain or take medication
  • Missed appointments
  • Lack of independent transportation, access to finances, or telephone
  • Failure to use condoms or other contraceptive methods
  • Difficulty completing paperwork, not having identification, or medical insurance cards
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