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Here's how to help victims of abuse


It seems like an easy enough word to understand.

If a child falls down and scrapes his knee, a parent will help by putting on a Band-Aid.

If a student doesn't understand a math problem, her teacher will help by trying to explain it better.

But what if a woman is being physically abused by her spouse or a man is being verbally abused by his wife?

How does someone help? What does helps mean in those types of situations?

"There are lots of different levels of help," said Susan Keehn, an advocate from Someplace Safe in Alexandria. "The best way to help would be to eradicate violence. Imagine what a world we'd have without violence?"

Although ultimately, Keehn would love to have a violence-free world, she knows that for now, abuse still exists and there are ways for people to help.

The best way for family members and friends to help victims of domestic violence, be it physical, sexual, verbal or another type of abuse, is to be supportive, said Keehn.

Help needs to come in the form of simply being there for the victims - throwing them a lifeline to grab hold of whenever they need it, she added.

Despite the many times the lifeline may be thrown to victims of domestic violence, Keehn said family members and friends need to continue to throw it so that victims know they have someone to turn to when and if they are ready to leave a situation.

"It's not always easy to remain being that person - the lifeline - but it is critical," stressed Keehn.

Being a lifeline means listening to victims when they are ready to share their story; believing what victims have to say; empowering them by letting them know they are capable and strong enough to make their own decisions; and stressing to victims it is not their fault and that they do not deserve to be abused.

Keehn said in many cases, victims may just need someone to listen to them and to believe what they are saying.

"In most cases, when victims finally share their stories, they don't tell the half of it," she said. "So to believe them is critical."

Keehn also said that family and friends should encourage victims to talk to authorities or people who can help, to reach out to the necessary resources that will eventually lead them to a safer and violence-free life.

One key component to helping victims is to never, ever put the blame on them, she added.

Victims should always be approached in a sensitive manner, especially if being approached by a co-worker instead of a family member or close friend.

"You should let them know you care and that you value them and that if they need something, you are a safe person," Keehn suggested.

Co-workers can suggest checking into an employee assistance program, since most businesses offer these types of programs, or encourage the victim to talk to the human resources person.

"Use your judgment when approaching co-workers," said Keehn.

For victims of domestic violence, she added, it's not just about leaving - there's always so much more.

Keehn stressed that leaving isn't always easy or feasible and that in most cases, leaving has to be timed just right or it can be detrimental.

Abusers oftentimes look stellar to those on the outside and will often be someone who most people would never suspect as an abuser.

"Looks can often be very deceiving," said Keehn. "Abuse crosses all lines - social economics, gender and race. It knows no limits or boundaries."

For most victims, it takes numerous times of trying to leave before they actually get out of an abusive relationship for good.

Families, friends and loved ones need to have patience when it comes to dealing with victims of abuse, said Keehn.

Other ways to help

Family members and friends of victims can also help by getting involved in organizations, such as United Communities Advocating Non-violence (UCAN) or by volunteering at Someplace Safe.

To become involved with UCAN, call Chuck Nettestad at (320) 763-3968 or send an e-mail to

To contact Someplace Safe, call (320) 762-1995 or call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-974-3359.


This is the final article in a four-part series about domestic violence. Here are the topics and when they were printed in the newspaper:

Wednesday, October 7 - Safety planning, order for protection and harassing restraining orders.

Wednesday, October 14 - Strangulation and other forms of abuse.

Wednesday, October 21 - Domestic violence in rural communities and the economy.

Wednesday, October 28 - How you can help.