National Edition

From apps to blogs, women are finding innovative ways to unite against domestic violence

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken Jan. 27, 2014, informational brochures about domestic violence are handed out to Elizabeth Grady students in Medford, Mass. A program run by a Mass. district attorney’s office is training hairstylists, skin care specialists, massage therapists and other salon professionals on how to spot signs of domestic abuse among their clients, while other enterprising women are using everything from blogs to smartphone apps to extend emotional support to women who are victims of abuse.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

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Until the day before she left, nobody knew Anne Lawrence was in a physically abusive marriage. She was 33 years old and working as an account manager for a brand design company when she walked into work one day feeling like she was having a nervous breakdown. The receptionist took one look at her and pulled her into an office.

The receptionist recognized the signs because she had been a victim of abuse herself, and Lawrence found herself blurting out her story for the first time. Her co-worker said, I've been there, here's a number to call, here's what you're going to do. Lawrence felt paralyzed. "I told her, 'I don't think I can do this,' and she was like, 'Nope, you can.’ ”

By the next day, Lawrence had left stealthily for a shelter with her two children. That night she was lying awake in bed surrounded by the eerie quiet and staring at the strange, sterile walls. Her co-worker had told her this would happen — that she would second-guess herself and want to go home.

"I heard her voice in my head, and it was only because of this that I stayed," says Lawrence. "She told me that I would panic, and that if I stayed the next day I would see differently and be strong. I don't think I could have done it without her."

Researchers are finding that friendship and mentoring — especially from peers of the same sex — are important as women remove themselves from abusive relationships. According to a 2011 study in the journal Family Practice, 50 to 60 percent of women in domestic violence situations "suffer from depression and are commonly isolated" by their abusers.

In the study, family doctors, who often see women who are suffering from partner violence, offered the services of at-home "mentor mothers" to offer emotional support and care. The mentors — who were recruited from health care, welfare and education backgrounds — met with subjects weekly for one-hour sessions to develop "trusting relationships" over the course of 16 weeks.

At the start, each woman underwent interviewing and testing to measure how much violence she experienced, how much depression she felt and her degree of social interaction. After four months, of the 43 women who completed the study, 25 no longer were exposed to partner violence. The remaining 18 still suffered abuse, but the amount of violence they were exposed to had decreased. Nine of the women got jobs, and 13 started new study courses.

The authors of the study concluded that mentor support played a significant role in mothers becoming aware of the effects of partner violence, especially for their children. It helped them seek professional help, stave off depression and mitigate intergenerational transmission of violence.

Now enterprising women are finding innovative ways to extend emotional support to women who are victims of abuse, using everything from blogs to smartphone apps.

Internet networking

Tina Swithin started her blog, One Mom's Battle, about leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, mostly to update family and friends. "I got about 300 hits a day — and about 200 of those were me checking my own blog," Swithin said.

Then something unexpected happened. It turned out one of her 300 readers was model Christie Brinkley, who started promoting her. Within a month, Swithin's readership went from 300 to 30,000.

Now Swithin gets 40 to 70 messages a day, she says, from women in abusive situations. Some are asking for help, but many just want their stories to be heard.

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