Breaking Free: Ways loved ones can support domestic violence victims

HOUSTON – When domestic violence happens, it is typically behind closed doors. Victims may feel isolated and helpless. Sometimes family members and friends may be aware of the abuse and domestic violence advocates said there are several things they can do to help the victim.

Sheryl Blakes’ 41-year-old daughter, Keysha Preston, was killed by her ex-husband in 2021 at a northeast Houston motel. The mother of three’s body was never found. Blakes said her former son-in-law, Sean Preston, physically and violently abused her daughter several times but Keysha never willingly made a report.

“He had hit her in the head with a bat and bit her in the eye. The policeman at LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital) made her report it,” Blakes said.

On average, it takes domestic violence victims seven times to finally leave a relationship, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

That’s why the Harris County Precinct 7 Constable’s Office created a domestic violence unit in 2012.

“Many of them don’t label it as domestic violence because the victim think it’s normal,” said Deputy Sgt. Monica Bilbo.

Every Tuesday, abuse victims can come into the office located on Griggs Road to fill out a protective order and seek out a list of resources to help them safely escape. The process is designed to be less intimidating than going downtown to the courthouse or visiting multiple law enforcement agencies.

Sgt. Bilbo runs the domestic violence unit. She said friends and family members who may witness abuse or are aware of it have an obligation.

“When you don’t say anything, you are helping that situation to continue and we don’t want that,” Bilbo said. “We want you to report it to us, allow us the opportunity to do our due diligence in investigating it.”

Domestic violence advocates said outside of reporting the abuse, loved ones can take the following actions:

  • Ask questions like, “Are you OK?”
  • Believe the victim’s account.
  • Offer your support and resources.
  • Help them come up with a safety plan.
  • Safely record the incident on your phone to hand over to law enforcement.
  • Report the abuse or suspected abuse to police.

Christina Allen is the CEO of Family Time Crisis & Counseling Center in Humble. The domestic violence service offers a 24-hour hotline, shelter, and counseling to the victim and their family.

Allen said the main thing you should not do is try to forcibly remove the victim from the situation.

“It’s taking away more autonomy that they have over their own life and that’s the nature of abuse and violence,” Allen added.

Allen said doing something can potentially save a loved one’s life.