A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

How to respond to domestic abuse when it occurs in public

One of our readers who goes by the screen name “ranthegauntlet” wrote this post on her blog and we are re-posting it with her permission. 
The original post was titled on her blog We Learned Something Post #1

A well-dressed, middle-aged couple walked into Starbucks Tuesday afternoon, as I sat with my computer and chai near the door. The woman entered first, with the man behind her. There was something subtle about his body-language. No swagger, or strut, or leggy man’s man walk. Just a trace of ‘his underwear is too tight.’ End of thought. I went back to my computer.

Minutes later, apparently having found no suitable seating inside, they went out the door to the patio. I overheard him saying irritably that he doesn’t LIKE to sit outside. But they did. As I worked I glanced up occasionally. She was cheerful, animated….but something was off there, too. His body language (back to me) was still different. Gut feeling, but what? Next glance, she was still cheerful, like “making nice” cheerful. The words for him? Testy. Malevolent. Well contained.

He stood up and began pacing. I watched her…wondering if she was smiling or crying. Until her face broke apart and she was sobbing, shaking,  hands to her face. He remained rigid, cold, commanding.

I started shaking, too.

They moved a few steps to the curb, where she sat, shaking and sobbing, as he first stood over her, then moved back a few steps. Stern. Hard faced. Then they were standing in the parking lot. Same. She was talking through sobs. He was talking, hard edged words I couldn’t hear, hard face.

My fingers didn’t work well, but I located the local domestic violence phone number, and wrote it on what I had available – a teabag. I went outside, greeted them both, and asked the woman if I could speak with her a moment. She looked at me, like she wanted to. He said, to me, “NO, we’re having a good conversation here; leave us alone.” I did. I didn’t want to place her at risk by making him angrier. Shortly after that, they were gone.

Since then I have attended two DV support groups. I related the incident, and got feedback from five professionals who work with DV. This is what I learned from their experience:

I should not have approached her.

It could make the beating she gets at home worse.

He will likely be angrier, and blame her.

It placed me at risk.

I may have validated her experience as inappropriate, and thereby given a little support. But with risk to her and to me.

Better response: Go out of sight and call 911 or Police Dispatch.

Because – the police, if properly trained, will separate them, which gives her time to think.

Because he will not like being embarrassed or focused upon or challenged.

    • Which may subdue him.
    • Which may make her beating at home worse.
    • Which may drive his behavior farther underground, less visible to others, still as dangerous to her.

BUT, the event will be documented, which may help her later to prove need of help, restraining order, etc.

If Police are properly trained, she may receive helpful information.

Each of these DV professionals had dealt with similar situations (they also seem to have the “radar” – one said she tunes into such interactions least once a week – usually in parking lots). This is what they related:

A woman fled into the ladies room at a restaurant. The DV counselor went into the restroom, made no eye contact, but put a DV hotline card on the sink. Then left the room. She said this is because the woman may be ashamed and unwilling to interact. She may utilize the information – maybe not today or for 5 years – but she knows the option is there.

Another woman in a public location was being berated. When the abuser looked away for a moment, the DV counselor slipped a card to the woman and whispered for her to put it in her shoe. They said that abusers often search phones, purses and clothing, but rarely check shoes.

Placing DV information, card, etc., where an abuser may find it can be dangerous. It is best to do nothing rather than being too indiscrete. One way or the other, you have no way of knowing the nature of the abuser’s response, the danger to the  victim, or the danger to yourself. You do the best you can, and hope for the best.

It takes a victim an average of seven tries to leave an abuser, for various reasons. A lot of fear, confusion and denial working.

I stopped shaking after leaving Starbucks. I’m shaking again as I write this post. I’m also learning that shaking is good – it is the body’s way of releasing trauma, whether primary or triggered. So, OK.

There is improvement. I responded better than to the man in my post “To Hell In  A Hand-Basket.” I hope I didn’t set this woman up for worse abuse. Hard to know. But at least you and I know a little more and are better equipped to respond in a way that actually MIGHT help, WHEN we encounter this again.

Please pass on what we just learned.

22 Comments

  1. Outstanding–thank you. Unfortunately, most efforts to help end up, or have a good chance ending up, hurting the abused, and I think you explain this very well.

  2. AJ

    Thank you, very helpful! It has been interesting to notice that we (friends in a support group) can stand up for each other but have trouble standing up for ourselves. Our protective instincts come out when we see someone else in trouble but we need to consider if we are causing more trouble than we are helping. I do feel so cared for when they defend me to the gossipers who are talking about my situation!

  3. Anonymous

    This is good information. Thanks for sharing it. Sometimes we want to jump in and rescue, but it is better to do it from afar, I guess.

    I remember being in a store several years ago (about 10) with my husband. He was leaning over me, getting in my face and although incredibly angry, he was not yelling loud enough for everyone to hear, but was waving his hands at me and grabbing the cart. People at the checkouts were watching. I did not make eye contact with my husband. I never looked at him or said anything to him when he was raging. I was however, looking at all the other people watching him and the looks on their faces. They were stopped in the lines waiting and were watching intently. There had to have been a dozen people just watching this go on. One woman looked at me and mouthed, “Help”, while a man looked at me and made the phone sign up to his head, pointed his finger at me, made hand signals and mouthed, “Do you need me to call 911?”. Another woman was shaking her head “no” at me. The others were just watching and taking note. I kept silent. Then a woman began to approach with her cart in tow and I opened my eyes wide to her and she stopped. I just looked away at the other two that had mouthed those things to me and then turned to my husband, and without looking at him, said, “Maybe you should go to the car, because everyone in here is watching you” and he turned and scanned the crowd. The man who offered to call 911 purposely made eye contact with him, even stepping out toward him giving him a firm look and then my husband stormed out of the store. That same man came to my isle and asked me if I was alright and if I was safe. I remember just looking down at my feet and saying, “Yeah, I’m okay”. He then said to me, “Well, you should get some help”. My husband later asked me who the guy was, that I MUST have know, who gave him a dirty look. But I had no idea who that man was. Funny, I was the one left feeling shamed and embarrassed, because there were so many who noticed and some who were willing to help, but I refused their help and still did not go get help for myself for another 7 years or so. But, that day also made me realize that I was living in something that everyone else watching in that store knew and believed was wrong! I had my eyes opened a wee bit by their offers to help me, because if they did not think I was in a dangerous or bad situation, why would they offer to risk themselves and get involved? It really made me think about things.

    Now I look back on that and think that perhaps that would be a good way to help someone too – just to mouth something when the abuser was not looking, or like said above, just call 911 and report it.

    • What a situation. In 20 years, mostly family and close friends saw this dynamic, and none of them said a word, or challenged him in any way. On one occasion a couple from church did confront him, and offered themselves as counsel and accountability over time – very amazing. One time a patron of a department store saw the interaction, looked me in the eye, and said, “He’s an alcoholic, isn’t he.” It is amazing what a relief even a little validation provides – as though someone takes the load and just lifts it for a second – long enough for a breath and a glimpse of reality. Blessings, to you. Diane

  4. when trying to leave there is this awful feeling of “it doesn’t matter how I approach this — it’s going to get ugly/violent/traumatic” no matter what. at some point we have to make the leap, and it’s never safe. I think wise people can also depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit in these situations, if they feel led to intervene or not.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Exactly! No easy way!

  5. Barnabasintraining

    Thanks, RTG. This is good to know.

  6. fiftyandfree

    This may be off topic since it did not happen in public, but I will never forget the time I visited a physician during my first year in the abusive marriage. I don’t even remember the conversation but the anti-husband was with me and he was pressuring me to not undergo an elective procedure. I had not made a decision either way and was seeking advice from this doctor. At one point the doctor firmly told my husband that the decision was mine and that he needed to support me either way. A week later I got a letter from this doctor in which she said she was concerned for my welfare and that she suspected I might be in an abusive relationship. She enclosed information and local resources for domestic abuse. I remember thinking with tremendous relief and gratitude that this woman understood what I was going through (although I was so used to being bullied at that point that I would not have described his behavior at her office as abusive, but she obviously saw something), and I remember thinking, “Maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe he really is mistreating me and there’s a reason why I fear him.” I can’t even describe the relief I felt at that moment. Up until that point I was seriously questioning my sanity. My licensed psychologist anti-husband had abused me relentlessly but had almost convinced me that I had imagined it all. Our therapist was convinced that he was a gentle and misunderstood guy and that I was just an emotional wreck. This doctor’s awareness, kindness, and concern for me was instrumental in helping me to emerge from the “fog” that so many of us live in when we are mentally abused. It still took me 12 long years to break free, but her words and her concern for me and willingness to reach out were such a comfort because it helped to validate the fear and anguish I was living in.

    I think that those of us who understand and recognize abuse can be a tremendous blessing to those being abused just by validating what they are feeling whenever the opportunity is safely available. We may not be able to rescue someone, but we may be able to help them emerge from that fog and begin the process of escape.

    • I think that those of us who understand and recognize abuse can be a tremendous blessing to those being abused just by validating what they are feeling whenever the opportunity is safely available. We may not be able to rescue someone, but we may be able to help them emerge from that fog and begin the process of escape.

      Bingo! Spot on! Amen! Right on, sister!
      Your comment was not too far off topic, don’t worry.

      That doctor was terrific: she did not put you at risk by saying something to you in the presence of your husband. She may have taken a small risk by sending you the letter (your husband may have had monitored your mail: I’ve heard of some abusers who do that) but she took that small risk and gave you much fog-dispelling help.

      I heard of woman who had presented repeatedly at the emergency room at the hospital, with injuries that she explained by making up fake stories of what caused them — I fell down the stairs. I was kicked by the horse. I walked into a door…
      The doctor said to her “If you keep falling down stairs and walking into doors, it is going to kill you.”

      I thought that was incredibly tactful and wise of the doctor. He did not embarrass or shame the woman by challenging her false stories, but he conveyed how seriously her life was at risk, and how gravely he was concerned for her safety. She wrote (years later, after she got out) that that doctor’s words had sown a seed of validation and compassion that later helped her recognise the abuse and escape from it.

    • I have another doctor story I heard.
      If this doctor suspected that a woman patient was in an abusive relationship and the patient was accompanied by her husband into the consulting room, preventing the doctor from having a private conversation with the patient, the doctor would ask the woman to do a urine sample, giving her a clean bottle for the urine sample and a brown paper bag in which to put the bottle when she was bringing it back to the consulting room from the restroom.

      The woman would go to the ladies cubicle. Inside, on the wall, was hanging a pencil and a pad of paper on it. The paper was printed with text something like this: “Do you feel safe at home? Are you walking on eggshells at home? If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, write your name on this sheet and put it inside the brown paper bag that you are putting your urine sample in. The doctor will not tell your partner what you have disclosed.”
      That way, the patient could disclose without her partner finding out.
      I don’t know what follow up the doctor did; it probably varied according to the individual case.

      • fiftyandfree

        Wow, Barbara; those doctors were exceptional. I especially like the brown paper bag method! How clever. Something else I always appreciated were those domestic abuse posters I often saw in women’s bathrooms. I wonder how many women find themselves in those questions, and if those posters help abused women. I hope that they do.

        BTW, I just finished reading A Cry For Justice. Thank you Jeff for writing such an insightful book. I am amazed at how well you understand what I went through, and I think that all the advice you gave to guide counselors and pastors to help abuse victims was perfect. If I had received the advice you suggested from the many pastors I had spoken to over the years, it would have saved me and my children many years of suffering. I gave your book to my Christian Counselor today in hopes that what he learns from it will help many women like me. He is an exceptional counselor and has helped me tremendously but he will be a better counselor after he reads your book! I’m going to ponder things for a while and then try to write a review for your book on amazon. Thanks again. I only wish I had found your book sooner, but I am very grateful to have been able to read it now.

      • As well as posters in women’s bathrooms, I’ve seen little wallet cards with contact details for domestic abuse agencies and hotlines. I really love it when I see them in bathrooms, because it tells me that the management of the organization is proactive in helping victims.

      • One more doctor story. My ex was acting very, very strange (more than usual), publicly, out of town. Fearing for his well being, I got him to an emergency room (with police assistance). The doctor in the ER commented that he had severe psychiatric problems. I replied that we had been to counseling. His words were literally the final slap that woke me up: “You aren’t understanding me. This is NOT a you and him problem. This is a HIM problem, and guys like this don’t get help.”

      • luv that story, RTG!

    • Ellie

      I had a Dr tell me something similar. I didn’t leave for years either, but I thought about his concern often.

  7. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog and commented:
    This is a very good article. Know what to do and what not to do.

  8. annette621

    my husband has been verbally and mentally abusive for about ten years and two years ago he had an affair with a friends wife. it was Hell, I look back now and see the abuse and cant believe I stayed. But then I was so afraid I did not want to believe, that he was really doing these things to me and that this is what was going on. He was Evil!!! we are still together but my outlook look on my life and him is very different . It would be hell and then loving .Now He’s this great guy “I’m joking because I cant trust him” I don’t know when the other guy my come back. But now I’m not quiet about the things he has done, I know he’s crazy, I went to therapy for a bit then stopped, now I go on my own. I didn’t tell him I’m going my therapist wants him to come also but really he lies and manipulates .For the first time in years I feel good about my self and I’m praying more then ever and focus on my healing . I’m getting my bearings.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Annette- If you haven’t, read, read, read books on abuse. See our resources page for some good starters. They are a huge, huge help in coming out of the fog and confusion. Press on!

      • annette621

        Thank You.

    • Dear Annette, welcome to the blog 🙂
      The nice guy and the nasty guy — that’s classic abuser behavior. And the nice guy stuff is also abuse because it’s just calculated to suck you back in again.

      • annette621

        thank you, i think after all these years God has used my husbands affair to wake me up to the verbal mental and sexual abuse he will not see he is this way i don’t under stand . He doesn’t freak out when things go wrong any more , and thinks he’s made the changes he need’s to .but i can slowly see things going back to the controlling behavior and the little jabs he takes at me . I will not fight with him or engage in this type of back and forth any longer. I mentally can not do it. I can’t tell ya’ll how God is using this Blog in inform me . Thank You Guy’s for not being afraid to be honest and bold.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Annette, When I decided to not allow my character to be manipulated by my husband’s abuse any longer, and realize that as a Christian I was accountable for my own behavior, regardless of what he did, I found myself freed from a great deal of the power he had over me. He mentally left the marriage (gave up on me) at that time, shouting repeatedly, “Why are you offering me resistence?” I didn’t know what that meant then, but now I know that his goal was to destroy me from inside, crush my spirit, and try to make me like him. After that he was seldom home, and I found out that he was fighting with other people and found a girlfriend to support him.You are doing right to keep up your boundaries and resolve to not get into fights with him. His battles are with himself. You belong to Christ.

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