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Domestic violence on paper looks like this: the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that in the U.S. on average, three women are murdered by their husband or boyfriend each day. Why do women stay in an abusive relationship and continue to put their health and their lives in jeopardy?

Good question. It seems like a no brainer. Why wouldn’t a woman leave? If only it was that easy.

Domestic violence in person looks like this: I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday, also a DV survivor, and we talked about why it was so hard for us to leave. What she said was, “When you are thinking about leaving you come up with all these reasons why you can’t leave: No money, you don’t want to take your children away from the only home they have ever known, you’re afraid you can’t do it alone.”

In my case it was hard to leave for all of those reasons and many more. I loved him. I wanted the marriage to work, but also I was so emotionally scarred that their were times I truly believed the rhetoric of an abuser: you’ll never amount to anything, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, no one else would ever want you.

Whether on paper or in person, domestic violence is a tragedy. I could quote statistics all day long and recite personal examples that would shock and amaze. But what can we do to help those who are suffering?

If you know someone who is being abused, acknowledge that you know she is in a harmful situation. Don‘t be judgmental about why she hasn’t left, just be supportive. Ask her if she has a safety plan — a clear step by step plan of what to do the next time the abuse occurs, and offer her information on how she can get help.

She may not know.

There are many ways you can help even if you don’t personally know someone who is being abused. The YWCA keeps a wish list on its web site for items that are needed to help the women and their children who have fled DV. So often leaving means leaving everything behind.

— LANA CULLIVER

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