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DEAR ABBY: A friend has been confiding in me, telling me her husband abuses her. She says it has gone on the entire 12 years they have been together. He does it in front of the kids, sometimes even while she's nursing or holding their youngest. He also threatens to shoot her. I'm afraid for her safety.

She left him once, but went back after he promised to change and temporarily became the charming man she wishes him to be. She knows she needs to leave again, and I have told her I'll help her in any way I can to make it happen. She's trying to hold out until she finishes her degree and can financially support the kids on her own. I'm afraid she won't make it that long.

I feel so helpless. I worry that by standing by and not taking some kind of action, I'll be partly responsible for anything that may happen to the kids. On the other hand, she tells me these things in confidence. What can I do to help? -- TERRIFIED FOR MY FRIEND

DEAR TERRIFIED: Continue encouraging your friend to leave. A man who abuses, terrorizes and threatens to shoot his wife -- in front of the children, yet -- would have no hesitation about hurting all of them.

By now she should have realized that her abuser will never be the man she imagined him to be. The time to leave is while things are calm -- before his next outburst. In order for him to control her, he needs to keep her dependent. If he senses that she's nearing a point where she can support herself and the children without him, he could explode.

Make sure she knows how to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The toll-free number is 800-799-7233. The experts there can help her formulate as safe an escape plan as possible.

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