Is someone you know experiencing domestic abuse?
If you think a friend or family member is experiencing domestic violence, there are things you can do to help.
It is important to remember that control is a key factor of domestic abuse. Therefore, please
do not try to dictate what action your friend, relative or neighbour should take – be there to
listen and support them in their choices, their decisions, their control.
Friends and family often believe they should stay ‘neutral’ in a domestic abuse situation,
but the abused person can see this as an indication that they are to blame for the abuse. The
abuser can see it as evidence that their actions are acceptable.
Here are some pointers on how you can help someone who is being abused.
- Don’t wait to be told about their situation, bring the subject up yourself when the abusive partner isn’t around.
- Approach them about the abuse in a sensitive way, for example by saying,‘I’m worried about you because…’.
- Let them know you are concerned about them and want to help.
- Believe what they tell you.
- Take the abuse seriously. Abuse can be damaging both physically and emotionally, and is very destructive to someone’s self-confidence.
- The importance of helping break the silence and end the isolation should never be underestimated. Listen to what they say and let them show you how you can be supportive.
- Try not to criticise their partner or the relationship, instead, focus on the abuse and their safety.
- You need to support the abused person in whatever decision they are currently making about their relationship, while being clear that the abuse is wrong.
On a practical level you could:
- Agree a code word or action that they can use to signal that they are in danger and cannot ccess help themselves.
- Offer to keep copies of important documents and other items for them. If they have to leave in a hurry, they don’t have to waste time collecting important belongings.
- Together or on your own, find out information about local services and help.
- Offer any practical help you are able to give, such as the use of your telephone or address for information or messages, keeping spare sets of keys, overnight bags, and important documents for emergencies.
- Offer help to protect them. For example, you could offer to be around when the abuser is there, give them lifts home or take phone messages from the abuser, encourage them to talk to a counsellor, or talk to a counsellor yourself about what you could do to support him/her.
- Encourage and help to develop a safety plan. Agree with their concerns for their safety as well as that of the children. Offer your assistance in developing a plan that may even include you. Help by looking ahead to a plan of action should the abuser become violent again. Suggest an ‘escape bag’ somewhere which could include an extra set of car keys, ID documents, birth certificates, insurance cards, in case she needs them.
- Encourage her to break the isolation. One of the most effective ‘tools’ for abusers is the victim’s isolation from family, friends, co-workers or any type of support system. Help find an agency offering counselling and support groups.
- Encourage them to take threats seriously. Express your concern for her /his safety and never minimise threats made by the abuser. Remember, that an abused person is in the most danger when they decide to leave. Respect their judgment as to the right time to leave. The time must be right and safe.
- Evaluate how they cope. Faced with violence and abuse, many people develop ways of coping that are themselves destructive. The last thing they will need is another reason to be hard on themself, so encouragement will be required.
Most importantly, don’t give up on them. You might be their only lifeline.