Here’s what to do if you think someone is a victim of domestic violence

HOUSTON – Domestic violence is on the rise nationally and both our local police and hospitals are noticing the surge.

This week, officers were shot while responding to a domestic violence call, where Sgt. Harold Preston lost his life.

“We know what happens all too often in these domestic violence situations when a woman has had enough and that abusive husband ends up committing murder,” Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said. “We’re just grateful that this sacrifice is not in vain and that that family is going to be safe.”

This is at least the third time since July that Texas law enforcement has been shot while responding to these types of calls.

Dr. Joslyn Fisher, director of the Volunteer Initiative Against Violence Acts at Harris Health System and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said it’s a small glimpse into a huge crisis.

She said by the time police are called, the situation has likely been escalating and is dangerous for everyone involved.

Fisher said risk factors for domestic violence are social and financial stress. These are also two of the biggest stressors during the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Justice is trying to relieve this problem with a plan to provide $160 million for victim assistance. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also said Friday that the city is giving additional assistance to the Houston Area Women’s Center.

Ways you can intervene

Here are the warning signs that abuse may be happening: A friend who regularly calls suddenly stops, or withdraws from normal socializing or seems generally afraid.

Fisher said physical observations also include four bruises on the arm. This can signal where someone has been grabbed. Victims sometimes claim welts on their skin are bug bites, but these can be indicative of cigarette burns

Fisher said to help a victim, ask direct questions and listen without judgment.

“Somebody may not be able to leave," Fisher said. "They may be afraid to leave, they may be financially dependent on the batterer ... they may have children in the household and they don’t want to leave and either leave their children or leave and they may not have a place to go. They may not want to go to a shelter and so just listening and then providing resources.”

Resources are 24/7

When making a phone call isn’t possible

Fisher said since using the phone might be difficult when you’re in a controlling relationship, one of the easiest and most discrete ways to get help is to tell your doctor during a routine visit.

Whether you’re going for a check-up or mammogram, tell your doctor what’s happening and ask to use a phone in a private room or see if they can partner you with a trauma counselor.

Fisher said doctors within the Harris Health System are ready and equipped to handle this request at a moment’s notice.