UNDATED – October marks the 31st annual National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a time to acknowledge and remember survivors, and learn about ways to help those still living in violent or abusive homes.

“We know that 55,000 Minnesotans reach out to domestic violence services for help each year,” said Becky Smith, Communications Director for Violence Free Minnesota, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul. “But, we also know that at least half of the people experiencing violence or abuse never reach out. So, clearly the issue affects everyone, whether you have experienced abuse or violence, or know someone who has.”

Smith says the term domestic violence encompassed more than just physical violence and abuse; abuse and violence can also be emotional, psychological, spiritual or financial.

“This may mean that someone’s partner continuously berates them or puts them down, either in private or in public,” she explained. “This can mean someone’s partner doesn’t allow them to see their family members or friends, and isolates them. Or, this can mean the person causing harm prevents them from going to work, or if they do go to work, the abuser confiscates their money or gains access to their bank accounts.”

Smith says the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the issue of domestic violence, as many individuals experiencing it remain isolated at home – often with their abuser.

“The person who’s abusing them could be further isolating them, possibly by taking away their access to a phone or a computer,” she explained. “They could be preventing them from physically leaving. They might say this is for the victim’s safety or a variety of reasons.”

Smith says friends, family members, coworkers or neighbors who suspect domestic violence situation shouldn’t hesitate to reach out and offer support – emotional and financial.

“They should let that person who is experiencing extreme isolation know that someone is there for them,” she said. “Financial abuse happens in about 99 percent of domestic violence situations. Money, safe housing and transportation – we see that not having access to these things can keep someone trapped in that abusive situation. So, there are a variety of ways folks can support people experiencing financial abuse. This can be by offering money, or offering to get in touch with a domestic violence program and seeing what financial supports are available.”

Smith says the best way to help a victim of domestic violence is to listen to them without judgment, and allow them to make their own decisions.

“You shouldn’t feel like you have to give them any kind of advice,” she said. “Because, while they may tell you about what’s happening, there’s a high likelihood there’s a lot more going on that they’re not telling you about. They’re navigating a really intense situation, and one of the things you can do is empower them to make their own decision.”

She also encourages people to “become a resource” for victims of domestic violence.

“There are programs available in all 87 counties in Minnesota, and getting connected with an domestic violence advocate can open up this entire world of resources, including emergency funds, or emergency childcare,” Smith said. “Learn about what resources are in your area. Understand and know the local domestic violence shelter or programs. Know the hotline number, in case that person needs it for 24/7 advocacy. And, you can offer to make a safety plan with this person, or help them connect to an advocate.”

“While you’re making yourself a resource, you’re making it clear to that person that you are someone they can turn to,” she added.”

For a list of domestic violence resources, including access to 24/7 crisis support and information about resources in your area, visit Violence Free Minnesota’s website.