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How to Help Someone You Love

One of the questions most frequently asked of Womencare Shelter advocates is “What can I do for a friend or family member who is being abused?” At first glance, the answer to that question seems simple. The best thing you can do for someone who is a victim of abuse is be supportive. However, being supportive of someone you love, who is experiencing abuse from a partner or ex-partner is no simple task. When you come to the realization that someone you care about is being abused, you are likely to feel a great deal of concern for her. You may even fear for her safety. 

What Helps

  • Offer support: Find out if the victim wants to talk or share his or her feelings.  Don’t pressure them, but let them know that you are there if they need you.

  • Listen and believe: Listen to the victim’s story without judging their actions.  Listen for denial or minimization of danger. Focus your concerns on specific behaviors that seem abusive, controlling or violent. Name the abusive behaviors without “trashing” the abuser.

    Example:  “Never being allowed to spend your own money without your partner’s consent sounds like you are being controlled to me. What does it seem like to you?”  -OR-  “It is emotionally abusive to belittle someone.  Being called names or told that you are stupid is emotional abuse.”  -OR-  “Being threatened with weapons is dangerous in any circumstance. I am really concerned for your safety when you tell me physical abuse like that is happening. Do you have a safety plan?”

  • Understand: Maintain respect for the fears, pressures and needs that may hold the victim in the relationship. Recognize and respect that she or he may love or feel committed to their partner in spite of the abuse. Remember that it isn’t helpful to judge the victim’s reasons for loving, leaving or staying.
  • Provide information: Take some time to learn more about domestic violence yourself. Then, let her or him know where she or he can find help. Tell the victim about shelters, domestic violence help lines and support groups.  Suggest reading material like Getting Free by Ginny NiCarthy and offer to let her leave those materials with you if taking them home is not a safe option.

  • Focus on safety: Ask if you can help the victim plan ways to keep her or him self and their children safe if the abuser does become physically, sexually or emotionally violent. Remind the victim that domestic violence is a crime and that the police can be called at any time.
  • Be patient: Remember that the victim’s situation isn’t awful all the time. She or he may leave or reach out many times before deciding to leave permanently.  Ending any relationship takes time; ending one where controlling behaviors are present takes even longer.

  • Acceptance: Be prepared to respect where the victim is in the relationship.  You don’t have to like it, but criticizing her choices will only alienate her or him from you and increase the victim’s sense of isolation. Let the victim identify her own timeline and focus. Trust that she or he can and should make her or his own decisions when ready and able to do so.
  • Take care of yourself: Understand that it will be a painful experience for you as you watch her or him go through their own process of acknowledging and dealing with domestic violence. Call a domestic violence help-line to receive support for your experience of the situation. Advocates expect to provide support to family and friends and are trained to help you work with feelings like anger, helplessness, and fear. Remember that you don’t have to be the victim’s only source of support. Encourage the victim to make use of domestic violence resources and domestic violence program advocates by calling crisis lines or attending support groups.

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