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Violence at Home

How can you defend yourself against domestic violence?

More Programs Reaching Out to Women

In the last 20 years, more has been done to help women in violent relationships. Outreach programs have sprung up in most cities, and increasing numbers of people are being trained to recognize and help stop abuse when they see it.

Because so many women who have been abused show up at hospitals, it makes sense to have specialized care in place there. Parkland Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, is doing just that. Parkland is one of the first hospitals in the United States to have an on-site center that provides women living in violent situations with support and resources. The center pairs each woman with a social worker who helps her to negotiate the legal system, document the abuse through eyewitness testimony and photographs, develop safety plans for those who decide to leave their relationships, provide emergency shelter, and help get protective orders against abusers. The center also trains staff at other hospitals to implement their own domestic violence programs. "The center is a one-stop, one-shop place where victims of domestic violence can come," says Ellen Taliaferro, founder and medical director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention clinic at Parkland Hospital.

Employers, too, are realizing that they can help, because domestic violence is not isolated to the home. It can spill over into the workplace in the form of violence, threatening phone calls, absenteeism related to injuries, or loss of productivity due to extreme stress. This is especially difficult because when the home is violent, a woman's workplace is often one of the few places where she can be safe and away from her abuser. Many organizations, including Blue Shield of California, are recognizing this and providing workplace training to help educate human resource professionals, managers, and co-workers about what to do if a worker is in a violent relationship.

You Can Help: What to Do if You Suspect Someone Is Being Abused

If you ever hear or see domestic violence in action, call the police to report it immediately, says Kabat. If you suspect a woman is being abused, speak up, but do so gently. Say something like, "Look, I know something is going on. If you ever need to talk, I'm here." Putting intense pressure on the victim to talk before she's ready may only make her withdraw. Make it clear that you're available for her and that you're non-judgmental; provide her with the information and resources she will need. Because she may need to leave her home quickly, help her in advance to devise a well-thought-out safety plan that includes what she should take with her and where she should go. And remember that the help should be ongoing: A 1993 study at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found that a woman is often at the greatest risk of injury or death after she leaves the abusive relationship.

Don't let lack of personal experience stop you from reaching out, says Draeger, who now works for a domestic violence advocacy group in her area. "You don't have to be a survivor to help," she says. "You just have to care."

Michele Bloomquist is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore.

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