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Dear Doctor: Domestic violence

I think that a good friend is in an abusive realtionship. What can I do to help her?

Can you give me some advice? I have a suspicion that a close friend is in an abusive relationship. Should I confront her? She has two children, and I am concerned that they are also affected.

Domestic violence or abuse can take many forms, including emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse. It is a serious threat for many women and is very common.

It can happen to any woman, regardless of her age, social class, race or lifestyle. Physical violence often escalates in frequency and severity over time.

Anyone in a relationship with someone who stops them from seeing family members or friends or prevents them from going to work, or tries to control how they spend money, where they go or what they wear may also be experiencing domestic violence.

All forms of abuse come from the abuser's desire to maintain power and control over another person. No one deserves to be assaulted, humiliated or abused, least of all by their partner in what should be a caring relationship. Women often blame themselves because they have been consistently told it is their fault.

Sometimes domestic violence begins or increases during pregnancy. The danger continues after the baby is born. Even if your friend's children are not abused, witnessing domestic violence can be harmful. Children who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to be abused and have behavioural problems than are other children. As adults, they're more likely to become abusers themselves or think it is a normal part of a relationship.

Some women worry that seeking help will further endanger themselves or their children or that it may break up the family, but the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action.

It can be difficult for someone to admit that they are in an abusive relationship. The idea of leaving can be as frightening as the prospect of staying. But there are some basic steps you can take to assist someone who confides in you. Letting her know that you care and are willing to listen. Never underestimate her fear of potential danger. Domestic violence kills and seriously injures more women in Europe every year than cancer or road accidents. Emphasise that she and her children deserve a life free from abuse. Tell her you're there for her when she needs you. Provide whatever you can: transport, child care, financial assistance. Encourage her to develop a plan to protect herself and her children. Make a list of people she can call in an emergency. Suggest she has an extra set of keys to the home and the car and keeps important documents together such as certificates, benefit books, bank accounts, etc.

Remember that she must make her own decisions about her life but be there for her.

Womens Aid national free phone 1800 341 900 www.womensaid.ie and www.sonashousing.ie