“My daughter’s husband punched her hard in the face last night. She had packed up his clothes and when he came home drunk she handed him his bag and asked him to leave. That’s when he hit her. The children woke up and were frightened to death. My husband and I picked them all up and brought them to our house. I have never dealt with anything like this before. My son-in-law is a good provider, and my daughter a stay-at-home mom. She has not left the marriage because she has nowhere to go, no career, and limited education. She is terrified that if she presses charges, the children will be taken away. She has no money of her own, and worries that the children will lose their comfortable lifestyle if she gets divorced. And she doesn’t know how she would pay a lawyer. My grandchildren are very traumatized. My granddaughter was crying and shaking all night. I think she needs therapy right away to prevent PTSD, but my daughter again is reluctant to allow any professionals to “find out.” What do I do?
One in 3 women in the United States has experienced physical abuse from an intimate partner (the number jumps to 2 in 5 for black women.) Let the stats sink in for a minute— that’s more than 30% of women—and those are only the cases that are reported. Given the prevalence of domestic violence, which can take so many different forms beyond physical abuse, we have put together this special edition of WTF Do I Do? The simple answer we hear over and over again from thousands of women who have lived with abuse is that you have to leave because it escalates — domestic violence always does— no matter how nice he is when he’s not raging.
We know the situation can be scary, for all the reasons Anonymous stated, so here is a basic game plan:
Call the police.
Beating someone up is a crime. You didn’t deserve it, and the perpetrator should be arrested.
Get a restraining order.
One in 7 women was a victim of stalking at some point in her lifetime. You need to be safe while you figure out next steps, and you don’t know what he might do. Your safety (and the safety of your children) is the #1 priority.
Hire a Lawyer.
You are entitled to half the assets in the marriage and to child support. No one will take your children from you because he is violent. The website womenslaw.org is a good resource if you need help understanding the legal jargon, or you are looking for a lawyer who will work with your budget.
Get emotional support.
Find a therapist, and reach out to friends and family. You have nothing to be ashamed of. This is ugly, but it’s also shockingly common, and you need help getting through it. If you want to find professional help, but aren’t sure where to start, RAINN has a good search engine for local providers here.
Take photos of your injuries.
And take them over the next few days as the injuries change. Black eyes get worse before they get better, and you want proof.
Go to an ER or local clinic.
You want to have medical proof of your injuries for the divorce and/or criminal proceedings.
Nail down your narrative.
You’re traumatized and disoriented, but you need to be able to recount the story exactly as it happened. A police report, photographs, medical records, and a narrative will all support your case, which will help you in your divorce and in any custody dispute.
If any of the above feels too overwhelming to do on your own, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to be referred to a local agency for support.
If, like our anonymous poster, you are looking to support a friend or family member who is experiencing domestic abuse, the National Center on Domestic Violence has compiled some useful resources here. If you have a teen dealing with domestic violence, loveisrespect.org is another helpful resource.
Finally, know that you can do this. Crisis and tragedy do ultimately make us stronger, and you don’t deserve to be abused. You will heal and prevail.