The light will shine for local victims of domestic violence at 6 p.m. today during a candlelight vigil at Heritage Hall.

The event, sponsored by the Carter County Domestic Violence Task Force, is part of the area "Light Up the Night" observance for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Stacey Mason, Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma executive director, calls domestic violence prevalent throughout the area.

"Domestic violence does not discriminate, it happens to people regardless of race, income level or education level," Mason says.

If you are a victim, you're urged to seek help by calling the FSSO crisis hotline at (580) 226-6424 for assistance.

If you're a friend, relative or co-worker, here are some tips for helping to develop a safety plan for a victim:

• Don't judge — you are not in her situation.

• Avoid telling the victim that she needs to leave (she already knows that she needs to leave, but she does not feel she can); instead, discuss a safety plan.

• Don't tell her that the abuser is a jerk, that you never liked him, etc. (That might drive her away or make her feel she has to defend him.)

• Become the victim's confidante. Listen to everything she tells you. (You could be a good witness later by backing up her story.)

• Assure her you will keep what she tells you confidential. (This will help you gain her trust so she will be more likely to call you if she finds herself in a very serious situation and trying to escape.)

• Ask her what the situation is like for her. (Her abuser may: physically abuse; make rules that are forever changing; punish her for breaking his rules; criticize her; humiliate her; prevent her from seeing friends or family, or from going to school, work or her place of worship; accuse her of lying or being unfaithful; force her to do things she does not want to do or that make her uncomfortable; monitor what she does; monitor how much money she spends, make her beg for money or demand to see every receipt; destroy the things she cares about; spy on her; blame her for his misdeeds; insult her, call her names or spit on her; tell her friends, family or neighbors nasty things about her; threaten to hurt or kill her or the children.

• Let her know that: You are afraid for her safety; you are afraid for the safety of her children; this is not her fault; no one deserves to be abused. Let her know even if her abuser apologizes, it does not mean he will stop abusing her, and alcohol does not cause abuse, although many alcoholics never abuse, and most abusive alcoholics who stop drinking continue to abuse. Let her know there is a good chance the abuse will only get worse; assure her she is not alone; you will be there to help her, or to help her find others who can help her (be realistic). Pick a code word for her to use to have you call the police (or pick up her children from school).

• Let her know that abusers usually snoop on their victims to learn what they are doing and who is supporting them. He may well check her car to see how many miles she has driven, and/ or check her phone or computer for messages and contacts. With today's electronic security, he may even have bugged her phone or computer, or put GPS on her car so that he will know everywhere she goes.

• Let her know that her abuser will most likely try to isolate her from anyone who is supportive of her, including her children, and even you.

• Let her know that women who are abused by their male partners are three times as likely to get infected with HIV, and that her risk is much higher if her abuser is engaging in risky activity or causing her to engage in risky activity. She may want to get tested for HIV, and get treated if she tests positive.

• If it is safe for you to do so (and nobody in your household will tell her abuser), offer to let her store some emergency things in your home in case she (and, ideally, her children) need to leave quickly. These should include information about her abuser's driver's license, car registration and workplace address (often needed to get or register an order of protection), and his and her financial data (like credit cards, bank accounts, insurance policies), her emergency and important phone numbers, prescription information (and even an emergency supply of medications), and her children's immunization records. It should also include information about any firearms he has.

• If she has children, let her know that most people who abuse their partners are not good parents, that most of them physically or sexually abuse the children, and that, if nothing else, they are poor role models for the children, and they often become worse as the children grow older. Let her know that you know it is hard for the children to be in this situation, and that children are much more harmed by living in a home with domestic violence than they are by divorce or separation. And tell her unless she has court permission to relocate, she may lose custody if she flees to another state. She should speak with domestic violence advocates or a lawyer if she plans to leave with the children. Let her know that if she leaves without one or more of her children and wants custody of them or to protect them, she should talk with a lawyer of advocate about getting an order or protection and/or custody order, and the sooner she does this, the better.

• She, you or somebody should tell the children the abuse is wrong. She, you or somebody should teach the children that they should never get in the middle when one parent is abusing the other, that they should go somewhere where they will be safe and, if they can do so safely, call the police. She, you or somebody should teach the children how to call the police for help, give their name and address, and explain why they need help. They should know dialing 911 on a cell phone may not get local police.

• If she does not have children, let her know it is easier to get out of a bad relationship with no children. Abusive men often sabotage their partner's attempts at birth control because having children makes abusers even more possessive and abusive.

• Encourage the victim to document everything that happens — how they got injured and encourage medical treatment.

• If she has injuries, ask her if you can take photos of them and keep them at your home or other safe place. Date the photos and keep them with notes about when, where and how the injuries occurred.

• Document all the dates and times that you see injuries on the victim, even if she denies he caused her injuries. The victim may have gone to the hospital, but did not tell you or was too ashamed to tell you.

• If the abuser has destroyed or damaged household property, with her permission, have the police, you or somebody else take pictures of the damage. Store the pictures in a safe with the date, time and description of what each picture shows so she can use them in court if she wants.

• Tell the victim about the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma and the crisis hotline (580) 226-6424 for help in developing a safety plan and obtaining information about emergency shelter/relocation, restraining orders and advocacy programs in or out of her area.

• Be aware that clergy vary, and while some clergy are really helpful in cases of domestic violence, many others are not. The FSSO is likely to know who will be helpful if the victim wants to talk to a member of the clergy.

• If the victim is going to leave her abuser, tell her not to tell her abuser or anyone who might tell him in advance.

• Offer her a safe place, if this is realistic, or help her find one.

• If the victim leaves the relationship, do not disclose her location, especially to mutual friends or family members of the abuser. (Her safety is paramount.)

If you are interested in helping the FSSO as a volunteer, call the business office at (580) 226-3750.