Sunday, August 1, 2010

Don't Ask

I was coming out of the dining room at the shelter when a young woman, maybe 19, stepped into the hall. She was tall and attractive. She also had a large, ugly black eye. She hesitated, looked at me, looked away. I smiled and simply said, "Hi!" She smiled back and looked relieved.

At the shelter there's no need to ask "What happened?" or "You okay?" if someone has obvious injuries. And no one does, at least no one has in my presence during the 3+ years I've volunteered there.

First of all, everyone knows what probably happened, including the kids.

Second, everyone knows that No, she's not okay or she wouldn't be here.

Before she came to at the shelter she had to hide injuries, hide pain, worry about what the abuser would do next, lie about her injuries to anyone who asked, miss work, wonder if people believed her, live in fear that someone would find out the truth or call the State if she had kids.

The shelter may not be fun to live in, but it has the advantage of safety, acceptance, understanding, and a sharing/learning atmosphere. There can be personality conflicts, but they are usually worked out--sometimes by someone leaving; other times by women or kids figuring out how to live together so both can stay.

If you are emotionally close to a woman who appears to be abused physically or psychologically, it's fine to tell her you're available to listen, to help, to provide info (if you understand DV) or to find a place for her to stay.

If you are a relative stranger to a woman who shows signs of abuse, however, it may not help to ask her personal questions, leave info on her desk at work about domestic or dating violence, or tell her you're "there for her."

She's not about to trust acquaintances with her daily hell. She's already humiliated, anxious, and trying to figure out what to do next and/or what's best for her kids.

She doesn't need nudges,advice,lectures or excessive sympathy.
Give her space, let her think, and pray she'll figure it out before it's too late.

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