to Help Index
for Helping a Friend
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.
Tips for Helping a Friend
- Do Get Involved
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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.?
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?
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
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.
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)
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.