A former colleague is being abused by her husband
July 1, 2021 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm a survivor of domestic violence and a woman that I worked with but do not know very well, who is a Facebook friend, is posting that she needs help. More details after the cut.

A couple of weeks ago, "Stella" posted on Facebook some cruel things that had been said to her, but not by whom. I and other Facebook friends offered support and told her this was verbal abuse. Yesterday, she posted that her husband had cut her phone off so she had to be contacted by Messenger and also that she was looking for an apartment for her and multiple pets, and needed to get out now.

Having been through something very similar, I didn't contact her via Messenger because I know that if her abuser gets access to her messages he would probably take it out on her. Instead I posted the National Domestic Violence Hotline info to my own page for anyone who might need it. Today when I checked, her post about needing a new place to live is gone.

I have no idea whether she's at the point in the cycle of abuse where her abuser is promising her the moon if she doesn't leave, or if he took it down himself or threatened her if she didn't take it down. I still feel using Messenger isn't a safe option.

But I do know where she works. It's a doctor's office. I was thinking of contacting her there. One thing that occurred to me is that I could have a safety packet anonymously delivered to her at work. I have a copy of The Gift of Fear and info on the YWCA's local safehouse and the Hotline and other resources; a copy of Why Does He DO That? and a few other books. I want to do it anonymously because I don't know how violent her abuser might be or what he might do to me. I thought I might put a burner phone in there too. Maybe some cash too as she is indicating she's in a financially precarious position by her posts.

Is this a good idea? Do you have any other or better ideas? Worried her next post might be from a hospital.
posted by Beethoven's Sith to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yikes. Sounds like you know more than me about how to deal with this. But, based on experience with other shelters, the YWCA may not take pets. Know anyone in her town who might volunteer to keep them safe for a while? Thanks for doing this!
posted by eotvos at 8:42 AM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think your ideas about contacting her at work or having a safety packet for her are good ones; the only thing I question is doing so anonymously even though I totally get why. Knowing that there is someone she can reach out to in a pinch will at the very least be comforting, at the most could be useful.

Although, again, I totally get being anonymous because of not wanting to be traced. Maybe preprogram your contacts into the burner phone with an innocuous-sounding alias, like "Frank's Plumbing" or something? (you would need to explain to her privately somehow that it's actually you, of course.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Anonymous is kind of creepy, but if you add a short message about why it's anonymous, that would work.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2021 [9 favorites]

I think it’s a great idea but anonymous would be scary. Is there any hint you could give that would let her know it’s you?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:15 AM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Can you reach out to the other Facebook friends who also called out the verbal abuse. Maybe together you can come up with a plan to offer her support. Perhaps you can invite her for a group lunch during work hours and let her know what you can offer (help packing, ride to shelter, money, burner phone, place for her pets).

Not sure if a welfare check from the local police is a good idea or not, but that might also be an option.
posted by brookeb at 10:25 AM on July 1, 2021

I'm a little concerned about reaching out to her at work - work may or may not be a place she is safe, or a place she would want her coworkers to be made aware of her situation if she, for example, doesn't have a private place to open up a package sent to her. It may be the best of bad options but if you do have another option like reaching out through a mutual acquaintance or someone who responded to her Facebook post, or sending her a more innocuous letter at work with a burner email to reply to or something to establish that works for her before sending her a full-on safety package, I might do that.

Making resource information available on your own page is a great idea, too - maybe you can do an expanded version of what you already did, with the other referral information?

Thank you for caring and for trying to find a way to help her.
posted by Stacey at 10:42 AM on July 1, 2021

If you do send a parcel to her workplace, I agree that it would be helpful if you explained the anon aspect in the parcel. Someone once sent me The Gift of Fear anonymously and it did, and does, creep me out. Bearing in mind she's possibly in a place where she might interpret some events as game-playing from her abusive husband.

Like Stacey, I'm unsure if sending her something to open at work is a good idea; someone else might open the package, even if you marked it as private or personal. If you do, I think I'd keep it small, rather than several books, which would make a sizable parcel which might draw attention to her. Could you ring her up at work instead for a brief check-in? Brief because she may not feel able or inclined to discuss details at work, but you could at least open the lines of communication, unless you need to remain anonymous.
posted by paduasoy at 11:17 AM on July 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Nthing that an anonymous packet is unintentionally creepy (it's a catch-22, I know) and that there's a pretty decent chance that someone else may open it (unless you know for a fact that it is her job to process the mail for the office.)

You can try contacting her on Messenger with a message that in no way references any troubles, but is a just breezy invitation to meet up at some kind of local event or gosh, you'd be happy to grab a coffee with her any time." Make sure that the first line of your message--which will show on preview--is suitably innocuous-looking in case she's being monitored.
posted by desuetude at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2021 [9 favorites]

I understand the impulse to give books that have helped you, but realistically, she will not be able to read them at work, and she certainly will not be able to take them home with her.

I think it would be better if she knows you are supporting her, even just as someone to call or contact. An anonymous packet will likely accomplish little or nothing, since IME people tend to respond more to a consistent positive presence in their lives, than they do to one-off barrages of advice or things like help packets. I applaud your desire to help this person, though, and hope you can do so successfully.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Would it be possible for you to reach out to her and ask her to go for a coffee or lunch? Maybe in person you could share your concern and your story (if you choose) as well as offer her support resources. An anonymous packet would be unnerving to me and unwelcome at work.

It's a pretty easy time to just "reconnect" with people you haven't seen for a while if you're looking for a dialogue opener.
posted by countrymod at 6:16 PM on July 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

When I was roadtripping through AL I ate lunch at a place and noticed that one of the servers had a black eye. I looked up the local DV organizations, called the restaurant, asked to speak to the manager and gave her the info. She seemed receptive, agreeing that no one should be hitting her employee.
posted by brujita at 7:14 PM on July 1, 2021

I totally agree with the suggestion of inviting her to get coffee or lunch and taking it from there. The package, while well-intended, could be creepy or cause more problems. Offering to take in her pets might be the biggest thing you can do to help her feel ready to leave. Ultimately, this needs to be her decision; you know how it can take many tries to leave, sadly.

Whatever you do to help, make sure you are feeling OK: it seems like you could use some extra support right now, too. Since you two don't have a (close) relationship yet, she may understandably be hesitant to talk to you and/or accept your kind gifts.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:10 PM on July 1, 2021

Coffee, pet support.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:24 PM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Facebook messenger now has something called "Vanish Mode" that automatically deletes messages after they have been read when the app/session is closed. Obviously you would still want to use caution since messages can still be read by someone looking over your shoulder and the color scheme changes while in vanish mode making it visually distinct from regular FB Messenger theme but it might be useful if you decide you do want to reach out directly.
posted by metaphorever at 9:43 AM on July 2, 2021

I think this is a nice idea. What you say in your letter will be really important -- both to allay the weirdness, but also because the encouragement might be the most helpful part of the package. A few points to mention: how you saw her comment (i.e., you got the info via her own mouth, not by watching her), that you went through something similar (i.e., you're commiserating not judging), you have to stay confidential because XYZ, you are rooting for her, you know she deserves to live in peace and surrounded by kindness, you believe and have faith in her ability to make the best choice for her - whatever that choice may be - as this situation progresses. It's important to say these things because, with whatever criticism he's been dishing out, she may take everything the wrong way ("of course they have to stay anonymous because they know I'm a pathetic person who would just leech off of them"). The encouragement you offer might be a lifeline.

You might look for local resources, like you could mention Safe Havens for Pets if it operates in your area. Meathead Movers offers free moving services for DV victims in 5 California locations and has a phone concierge service to help people in other places find similar help. There's a list of businesses here that do similar things.

At the same time, of course, be prepared for it to take years more for her to leave.
posted by slidell at 2:23 PM on July 3, 2021

« Older Am I repeating unhealthy relationship patterns?...   |   Medicare questions Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.