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Tips for Helping a Friend

Even if police, advocates, courts, and counselors all fall into place at the right time, they can't replace the power of friends and family members in helping victims get free of violence. At the same time, when someone close to you is caught in the trauma of violence the situation can often be as overwhelming to you as to the victim. With a little guidance, though, any one can give quality help. That's why we're providing some useful tips to help you help your friend.

If you don't need this right now please pass it on to someone who does or pass it on to someone you know who likely comes in frequent contact with victims, such as a teacher, health worker, law enforcement official, minister, or counselor. These tips are available in Spanish.

General Tips for Helping a Friend
  1. Do Get Involved ! Though leaving a violent situation may appear simple from the outside, victims of violence against women and children are almost always trapped in the abuse by multiple obstacles and they need your help very much.

  2. Talk with the Victim in a Safe and Comfortable Place. Ask questions. Listen carefully and empathetically. Try as well as you can to understand the mesh of obstacles that keeps her from getting free. It's usually very complex. You can use the guide Tips for Talking with a Friend to help yourself and the victim figure out her most pressing needs and form a strategy for getting help.

  3. Make Phone Calls for the Victim. It's extremely difficult for persons traumatized by violence to make the round of phone calls needed to get good information and find the right people to meet her needs. Victims are quickly thrown back into despair when they encounter an unfriendly or unhelpful response. One of the nicest and most helpful things you can do is make that initial round of calls for her or with her.

  4. Help Your Friend Start and Keep a Notebook. A notebook is crucial to keep the barrage of names, titles, appointments, specialized terms, case numbers, etc. from becoming an additional anxiety. Putting it all down in one notebook gives a victim control.

  5. Accompany Your Friend to Police, Courts, Social Workers and Counselors. Or help her find someone who can accompany her. There are many reasons this is so important. See Tips for Helping a Friend Through the Criminal Justice System.. When accompanying your friend, ask questions, take notes, and don't hesitate to speak up if she's not getting the help she needs.

  6. Be Clear with Your Friend about What You Can and Can't Do. You simply can't do it all. Help her find others who can help.

You don't always have to say the "Right Things." Seeing the intensity of trauma in violence against women can be very upsetting. Don't feel you always have to be saying "right things.". Calmness, your presence, and a few kind words work wonders!

Tips for Talking with a Friend about Rape Domestic Violence, and Child Abuse

The following tips are provided to help you and your friend evaluate her situation and to guide you both in determining the kind of help she needs. These tips don't replace the importance of your empathy, encouragement, and common sense. Also remember to remind your friend often that all final decisions about what to do and who to tell are her decisions and hers alone.

Safety, Threats, and Fears: What are the victim's specific fears about violence, children, immigration, retaliation, police, housing, money, others finding out, press, etc. What specific threats have been made? Treat all fears and threats very seriously! Is there immediate danger? Has she gone to police? (See law enforcement below). Why not? Are needed restraining orders in place? What questions does she have regarding going to police and getting restraining orders? Does she need a translator? Who can accompany her to police?

Significant Others: What is the perpetrator's relationship to the victim? Is he in jail? How much is bail? You can find out 24 hours a day. Call 527-1414.

What other persons in her life know about her situation? Are they willing to be helpful? Or are they hostile to the victim? Can they be educated? Are any significant relationships crumbling under the stress of the crime? Explore with her at length who else in her life might be helpful? (Neighbors? Coworkers? Family? Teachers? Church members?) Would she like someone to talk with them? Encourage your friend to reach out to others for help! Or to let you to reach out for her. Remind her she doesn't have to tell them everything in order to ask for help with such things as an afternoon of childcare, transport, translations, and more.

Children: Are the stability and safety of children threatened in any way? What can be done? Can teachers help? Are there custody or other family law needs? Is childcare stable? Who can do extra childcare if needed?

Housing: Is your friend's housing safe and secure for tonight? For this week? For the month? Can the landlord be talked to? Does she need emergency housing funds? (In Sonoma County call SCPEO, 544-6911.) Does she need the perpetrator removed from the house by police or courts? Do everything you can to keep your friend from losing her housing! A shelter should only be a remedy of last resort. What is the status of food, heat, telephone, transport, etc.?

Law Enforcement: Does the victim fear going to police? Does she fear continuing with an existing criminal case? What information or help does she need? Does the victim know the status of her criminal case? Does she know the names of police, prosecutors, and advocates on her case? Names of charges? Does she know what's next in the criminal case? Has she been informed of her rights in the criminal case? Every victim should have the answers to these questions. Call advocates, police, or DAs office for answers. (Women's Justice Center, 575-3150) Is the criminal case proceeding well in terms of her relationship to police and prosecutors? Has anything important been left out of the investigation? Does she feel that translations have been adequate? Who would she like to accompany her to the next step? (See Tips for Helping a Friend with the Criminal Justice System.)

Job, Income, School: How much money does your friend need today? This week? This month? Who can loan her money? Does her work/school environment know about the situation? Is it supportive or hostile? How can loss of job, income, or school be prevented? Who can be talked to?

Medical: Are your friend's medical needs being cared for? In the case of rape, is she concerned about pregnancy? Sexually transmitted diseases? Does she want to get counseling? (Most all victims who have made a police report are eligible for Victim Assistance Funds. In Sonoma County call 565-8250) Have all relevant medical records been given to police?

Immigration: Is your friend's immigration status threatened in any way? Does she know that as a domestic violence victim she doesn't need her husband to petition for residency? (In Sonoma County call Catholic Charities, 578-6000) Assure her that police in Sonoma County will not ask her immigration status nor report her to INS if they know it. For Immigrant Rights information call 415 243-8215.

What's Next? Does your friend have a good idea about what she wants to do next? Or is she confused and frightened? In what way does she most want or need your help? Be clear about what you can and can't do, and about when and how you'll get back to her. Remember, you can make the difference! Call us if we can help. (Women's Justice Center in Sonoma County 575-3150)

Helping a Friend Through the Criminal Justice System

The following tips can be adapted for helping victims with work, schools, social services, churches, or any other institution victims may turn to for help. We highlight the criminal justice system because in crimes of violence against women and children the responses of police, prosecutors, and courts are most important of all. Only the criminal justice system has the power and authority to control the violent offender.

  1. Accompany your friend to law enforcement and courts whenever possible. Just being physically present with your friend during court hearings and police and prosecutor interviews keeps the process from becoming overwhelming. In fact, your presence can turn the criminal case into the empowerment for your friend that it should be; her turn for her truth to be heard and vindicated. Another good reason to accompany your friend is to help keep track of information. While answering questions about the crime, it's hard for victims to remember new information and questions they wanted to ask. If you carry a notebook and jot things down, you're a friend indeed. Another important reason for accompanying friends to law enforcement is that, despite improvements, there are still too many police and prosecutors who don't take crimes of violence against women seriously. Your presence alone tells officials that someone else cares very much about the victim and is watching out that the system cares too. ***California law gives sexual assault victims the right to be with an advocate and a friend at every point in the criminal process, including during all interviews with police (Penal Code Section 679.04).

  2. Help your friend start and keep a notebook. Once a criminal case gets rolling, there's a flood of vital information coming at the victim and much of it's packaged in the unfamiliar language of law enforcement. Criminal charges, hearing dates, bail conditions, case numbers, pleadings, official's names and titles, protective orders, all quickly become frightening to someone who is already worried. A small notebook collects it all in one place for her so she can focus on other things. If the victim isn't getting this information, you and she should ask, and keep asking, until you do get it. It's also a good idea for a victim to take notes on telephone conversations with officials, to write down questions she wants to remember to ask, comments she wants to make, and additional information she may remember about the crime. Sometimes just helping your friend get started on a notebook is all she needs to get going. Sometimes she may need you or someone else to keep notes updated.

  3. Insist on good translations. In crimes of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse, language translations must be accurate, and the translator must be someone who won't cause the victim to withhold parts of her story. A non-English-speaking victim should never have to tell her story through neighbors or family members. (Would you tell a neighbor all the details of a beating by your husband?) Statements given by victims to officials are too important to be translated carelessly or unprofessionally. ***Prosecutors and police always have access to professional translators. Even at the scene, police can call AT&T interpreters by phone. They should use them!

  4. Don't ignore yours or the victim's intuition that things may not be going the way they should. If you and your friend feel that she's getting treated badly, or that the case isn't being properly investigated, you may very well be right. Remember, it's only very recently that women's groups have pressed law enforcement to treat violence against women as serious violent crime. The response of some law enforcement officials has been excellent, but there are still too many who would like to make the women and their cases go away. Some officials try to wash their hands of these cases. They may lead the victim to believe the case isn't workable, may misinform her about her rights or about the law, or carry out halfhearted investigations. They may minimize the offense, imply the victim had responsibility in the attack, or allow long delays in taking action or responding to the victim's calls. Or they may just make things so uncomfortable for the victim that she simply doesn't want to continue. Pay attention to your gut feelings about how things are going. Ask questions! Don't let things slide by that you don't understand or that don't make sense.

  5. Try to get good information. This can be the hard part. You may be getting your questions answered but you may not always be getting straight answers. If things don't sound right, try to get answers from other sources such as victim advocates, your county law librarian, a trusted official not involved in the case, or the District Attorney's Office in another county. Probation officers are also well informed and often very helpful. ***In California there is a free 800 number with a legal staff on hand to answer any question you may have about victim's rights. You and your friend paid for this service with your taxes. Use it! Call 1-800-VICTIMS.

  6. If you still feel things aren't going right, don't hesitate a moment to go to supervisors, to call other officials, to write letters, and in general make noise. It's easy to feel intimidated about making complaints, especially when you're not one hundred percent certain how the process should work, and even more so when an official is trying to bully you into thinking that there's nothing that can be done. It's also true that not every case has enough evidence to bring a conviction. But when women sense these cases are not being handled properly, they are usually right. Your friend has a right to be treated with respect no matter what the circumstances of the crime, she has the right to a full investigation, and to accurate and honest answers. Many attacks and serious injuries to women occur because the system has failed to take action. So make that call to the officer's or prosecutor's supervisor. Or ask for a meeting. Tell them why you aren't happy. Ask all your questions. Tell them what you want. Why weren't all the witnesses interviewed? Why didn't the officer issue an emergency protective order? Why wasn't the suspect arrested? Why was his bail reduced? Why can't this case be charged as a felony? ***Go to the chief, the city council, or the press if necessary. Put your complaint in writing. Too many times the only real problem is that one official or another didn't want to be bothered. Your willingness to complain is often enough get your friend the protection and justice she deserves and needs.

  7. Bring evidence into the case yourself. It's always better if you can persuade a police officer or a district attorney to gather all the evidence and witness statements. But if they don't respond to your requests you can do it yourself. Witnesses can write out complete statements, or they can write out something that was previously left out. The same is true for the victim. For example, officers sometimes don't ask victims about the history of abuse that occurred before this incident. The victim can simply write it down and enter it into the case. Photographs, medical records, and other forms of physical evidence can also be entered by you into the case. ***To enter evidence into the case, simply go to the police department or District Attorney's Office and ask that the items be made part of the case file. It's always best if you can sit down with an officer or deputy district attorney so they can ask you questions about the origin of the items. Always make and keep copies of all written statements.

  8. Get more help! The only thing better than your help is more help. A criminal case takes a long time and a lot of attention. Make a list with your friend of all the people who might be able to help; friends, teachers, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, church members, etc. Don't be shy about asking. Most people want to do something to help stop the violence. And everyone wants to make a difference.


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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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