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Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, Multnomah County Public Information Office
Published: 29 May 2012

Multnomah County's Annie Neal, who oversees domestic violence coordination, and Vanessa Timmons, executive director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, offer advice about what you can do in domestic violence situations. Their conversation follows several high-profile incidents in the region.

When is someone more likely to encounter domestic violence? What would be the signs of that? When does it get riskier?

Domestic violence can happen in any relationship -- from teens to elders, straight couples and same-sex couples. However, we do know that some groups face greater risks. For example, people facing poverty and its associated stressors are at increased risk for domestic violence. Remember, domestic violence is not just about physical violence. It includes jealousy, threats, controlling behavior and coerced sex.

Besides the obvious physical abuse, warning signs can include a partner who is constantly suspicious or jealous of you, who tries to control your daily activities, who checks up on you or interferes with you at school or work, or who stalks you or spies on you.

One of the most dangerous times is when the abusive partner senses a loss of control in the relationship. So, leaving is an especially dangerous time. Also, if the abusive person is suicidal, they may also pose a risk to their family members.

What is the best way to make a safer transition?

If the person experiencing abuse is planning to leave, she/he should keep plans confidential until she/he is in a safe place. Pre-planning as much as possible also makes the transition a little safer, but sometimes you just have to leave in an emergency. Plan ahead so you know where you can go, how you can get there and who can help you in an emergency. If you sense you are in danger, get out and figure out the next steps later. Call the police if you think you're going to be hurt or killed.

Keep in mind that getting completely out of an abusive relationship might take some time. You might have to rethink all your daily activities and do things differently for a while. Even after you end the relationship, you should pay attention to significant events and changing risks.

What help does a restraining order offer?

A restraining order is a great tool for many people. There are different types of orders available for different situations (family abuse prevention, elder and disabled persons abuse prevention). A restraining order can order the abusive partner to stay away, let the person experiencing abuse stay in their home, set limits on contact, and even establish temporary custody. Its greatest benefit is that it gives clear direction to the abusive person, and if they violate the order, it gives the police and courts an opportunity to intervene. However, not every abusive situation will qualify for a restraining order, and it's always going to be up to the abused person's own assessment of their current situation to decide whether a restraining order will help. Other sources of help include the police, the district attorney's office, and domestic violence agencies specializing in help for people experiencing abuse.

What can friends and family do?

Friends, family and coworkers are important sources of support and information. In fact, people are more likely to turn to you than to professionals. You don't have to be an expert to be helpful.

If you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, controlled or threatened by a partner, talk to them -- privately -- about your concerns. You don't have to be an expert on abuse or on community resources; you just have to know where to point them when they want more information. Offer your support. Listen. Keep what they tell you confidential. Help them find the help they need when they're ready.

If you suspect a friend or family member is abusive, you also have a role here. It's human nature to just want avoid an uncomfortable conversation, but as a friend or family member, speaking up can make a positive difference. If you think someone is abusive, talk to them - but be sure you don't disclose information that the person experiencing abuse has shared with you, since this could put the victim at increased risk. Let the abusive person know their behavior is hurting their loved ones. Offer to connect them to help. If they're suicidal, especially over the end of a relationship, connect them the mental health crisis line. If they have weapons in the house, offer to keep in safe storage until the situation is less volatile. And if you think they pose a danger to someone else, let that person know.

What if children are involved?

Children who live in homes where domestic violence happens are almost always aware of abuse, or at least see the aftermath. They are also at greater risk for experiencing other types of abuse themselves. Children of all ages - from babies to teens - need support, reassurance and a safe adult who cares about them.

Who can I call? What's the best phone number and best website?

Multnomah County Mental Health Crisis Line: 503-988-4888

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)

Websites: Multnomah County Domestic Violence Coordination Office and Oregon Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Violence

Walk-in services/help for people experiencing abuse: Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services at 10305 E. Burnside St., Portland.

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