If you think that a friend or someone you know is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, it can be difficult to know what to do. You may want to help, but be scared to lose them as a friend or feel as though it is not your place to step in. All of these feelings are normal, but at One Love we believe the most important thing you can do as friend is start a conversation. Here are a few tips to help you talk to your friend.
Calmly start a conversation on a positive note
Find time to talk to your friend one-on-one in a private setting. Start by giving your friend positive affirmations and complimentary statements like, “You’re always so fun to be around. I’ve missed you!” Once your friend feels comfortable, you can begin calmly voicing your concern for your friend. It is likely that they feel as though things are already chaotic enough in their life, so to best help them, you will need to be a steady support with whom they can talk openly and peacefully. If you don’t panic and do your best to make them feel safe, then it is pretty likely that they will continue to seek your advice. You don’t want to scare your friend by worrying, starting an argument or blaming them.
Listen to your friend and let them open up about the situation on their own terms. Don’t be forceful with the conversation. It may be very hard for your friend to talk about their relationship, but remind them that they are not alone and that you want to help.
Focus on the unhealthy behaviors
The focus of the conversation should be on the unhealthy behaviors in the relationship and to provide your friend with a safe space to talk about it. Sometimes, our instinct is to immediately label the relationship as “abusive” to drive home the severity of the situation. This instinct, however, can cause your friend to retreat and shut down. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors you’re seeing and how that behavior makes them feel. For example, saying something like “It seems like your partner wants to know where you are a lot and is always texting and calling – how does that make you feel?” pinpoints the specific behavior and gets your friend to think about how it makes them feel. You can also gently point out that certain behaviors seem unhealthy and be honest about how you would feel if someone did it to you. This is one of the first steps in getting your friend to understand what is and is not an appropriate behavior in a relationship. Help them to understand for themselves that something is off about the relationship, and acknowledge that their feelings are legitimate.
Keep the conversation friendly, not preachy
Very few people in abusive relationships recognize themselves as victims and it is likely that they do not want to be viewed that way. If you want to be helpful, make yourself emotionally accessible and available to your friend. One way to reassure your friend that you are not judging them is to normalize the situation. Talking openly about your own experiences with relationship troubles will help them feel as though they are not alone. Be careful not to derail the conversation and keep the focus on your friend’s situation. Try to make it feel like an equal exchange between two friends — not like a therapist and a patient or a crisis counselor and a victim.
Don’t place the blame on your friend
Help your friend understand that the behaviors they are experiencing are not normal, and that it is NOT their fault their partner is acting this way. They may feel personally responsible for their partner’s behavior or as though they brought on the abuse, but assure them that this is not the case. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior, and no matter what the reason, abuse is never okay.
Allow your friend to make their own decision
If your friend is in an abusive relationship, the last thing you want to do is tell them to “just break up!” Relationship abuse is very complex, and your friend may be experiencing some form of trauma bonding—or loyalty to the person who is abusing them. Also, your friend is already dealing with a controlling and manipulative partner and the last thing that they need is for you to mimic those behaviors by forcefully telling them what to do.
Offer solutions to your friend
The best way for you to help your friend is to offer them options. Don’t push any one of them in particular, but instead let your friend know that you will support them no matter what they decide to do. Some of these options include visiting the campus violence prevention center or behavioral health center, talking to a R.A. or faculty member, or even calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Depending on how ready your friend is to open up, they may feel more comfortable vetting the situation with someone anonymously over the phone, or they may want to have the conversation in person with someone on campus who can help. If your friend is planning to end things with their partner, you should create a safety plan with them because the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is post-break up. Maintain a calm approach when dealing with the situation and be open to what your friend is most comfortable with. At the suggestion of seeking help, it is possible that your friend may try to cover up or down play the abuse. Reassure your friend that they are the expert in their own life and make them feel as though they are in control of the situation.
The only exception here is if someone is in imminent danger – whether it is self-harm or harm inflicted by another person. If your friend is in immediate danger, you should alert authorities (i.e., campus safety or 911) right away. Even if you think your friend will feel betrayed or angry with you for going to the police, saving someone’s life is the most important thing. Relationship abuse can be fatal and you should not hesitate to take serious action if you think that anyone is at risk for physical or sexual harm.
Expect more conversations in the future
The first time you have this conversation with your friend, they may admit a few things that have happened and then suddenly pull away or take it back. You do not have to get your friend to change their mind completely about their partner and you don’t need them to “admit” that they are being abused. The goal of the conversation is to let them know that you care and that you are available for them when they need to talk. It is not likely for the situation to be resolved neatly after one conversation, so you should expect to have more talks like this. Be patient through the process, and know that you are doing the right thing by talking to them about this difficult topic. Let your friend know that you support them and that you are there for them should they need you.
If you would like more information on how you can help a friend in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, please check out the US Department of Health’s Office on Women’s Health, or call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to get advice.
If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, you might feel scared, hopeless, and most of all, helpless. Whether the intimate partner violence in question is physical, emotional, economic, or falls into multiple categories, you may be at a complete loss as to what you can do.
The best ways to show up for your friend will depend on your relationship, the nature of the abuse, and what stage your friend is on in their journey. “There’s no cookie-cutter approach,” Arlene Vassell, vice president of Programs, Prevention, and Social Change at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), tells SELF.
With that in mind, “most of the time, what you’re trying to do is build trust,” Vassell explains. “Your goal as a friend is to create a space where someone will open up to you and to support and empower them.” Here, domestic violence counselors and a survivor share what you can say to get closer to this goal, plus some sentiments to avoid.
Here are some statements to try:
This expresses your intention to be a reliable, nonjudgmental ally whose love and support aren’t contingent on your friend making certain choices. “Show yourself as a friend no matter whether they decide to leave or not,” Vassell says. It really is about showing, not just telling. “Continue to be supportive and stay connected and show up and invite them out,” Vassell says.
People in abusive relationships often have a hard time trusting their inner voice. Your friend’s abuser has likely conditioned them to devalue their gut instincts, Jeanne King, Ph.D., founding director of Partners In Prevention, a 501(c)3 that educates doctors and nurses on how to recognize and intervene when their patients are being abused, tells SELF. Instead of telling your friend what to do, like their abuser does, “guide them to hear their own inner voice,” King says. “You want to help them find what’s right for themselves.”
One way to do this is to ask thoughtful questions about your friend’s feelings, wants, and needs surrounding the relationship. Some questions you might ask, per the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) site Loveisrespect: What is it like when you two have an argument? How do you wish things were different between you two? When did you last feel truly safe and happy with this person?
Respond to what your friend says by affirming their feelings, King suggests. You can try something like, “that sounds really tough to deal with” or “that must hurt you.” Keep in mind that your friend may not be ready to open up to you, and that’s OK. Putting the questions out there shows that you care enough to ask and could get your friend thinking.
Emily R., 39, was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship for about six years. She wonders if it would have helped to have these types of conversations with her closest friends, she tells SELF. “I don’t blame them for not [asking these questions], obviously,” Emily says. “I wouldn’t have known what to say, either.”
If your friend has told you about abuse they’re experiencing—no matter who started the conversation and whether or not they’re asking for your help—do not take it lightly. “Disclosing is often one of the hardest things a survivor has to do,” Vassell explains. “They’ve decided they want to share their most personal, hurtful, painful experiences with you. It’s a huge step. As a friend, you need to recognize that.”
Sharing even a little bit can be hard. Reassure your friend that they only need to tell you however much feels comfortable. You can also take this opportunity to direct your friend to resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−7233), which is staffed by trained advocates 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. In addition to offering help in emergency situations, this type of resource might make your friend feel more at ease sharing. “It’s so important [for] your friend to have an outlet for them to talk freely,” Vassell explains.
“Once you start to see physical violence, the odds [of serious injury or death] go up,” King points out. “If it can happen once, it can happen again, and each time it can escalate in terms of the consequences.”
If there are clear signs that your friend is experiencing physical abuse (or they have told you about it), it’s generally OK to express calmly and matter-of-factly that you care about them, that what is going on is not normal, and that you believe they are at risk.
You can show this concern without being judgmental or demanding. Consider trying something along the lines of: “The way your partner is treating you appears to be hurting you. I care about you, and I’m worried that you’re in a dangerous situation,” Vassell says.
A safety plan is a practical tool that lists how someone in an abusive relationship will ensure their physical, emotional, and economic security in an emergency, according to the NDVH. “It’s a tool created before the crisis situation so that the person knows what to do when things get really bad,” Vassell explains.
Safety plans are tailored to the person and should account for various scenarios that could arise while they’re still in the relationship, while they’re planning to leave, and after they leave. A couple of basic questions a safety plan should answer: Who will your friend contact (and how) if they’re in danger? Where will they go when they leave? As the NDVH points out, these things might seem obvious, but they’re worth having a conversation about now because it can be difficult to think clearly in stressful situations.
Although your friend should be the one to lead the planning, you can offer to help. Ask your friend, “If things should escalate, what would you want me to do?” Vassell says. For example, is there an emergency code word they can text you if they’re in danger and can’t make a call? Can you hold on to some cash for them?
If your friend doesn’t want to involve you, you can still point them towards resources. They can call the NDVH, find local support through the National Network to End Domestic Violence, or read up online about safety planning under different circumstances (like during pregnancy or with children).
If your friend is in imminent danger, you may need to call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline ASAP for crisis intervention.
If your friend is not currently in need of emergency assistance, it may still be good to help them find a counselor, King says. There are therapists who specialize in this area and social workers at local domestic abuse shelters and agencies who are trained in this kind of counseling too.
For Emily, about six months of counseling was what she needed to find her inner voice, make a decision, and carry out a plan to leave her abusive relationship.
Here are a few things you should never say:
The unfortunate reality is that leaving is not always a practical or even safe decision, Vassell says.
Attorney, advocate, speaker, and writer dedicated to empowering women and working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.
Over the past 15 years, I have worked with thousands of survivors of domestic violence, who experienced incredible pain and turmoil in their journey to safety and freedom. But, I have found that the most distraught people I talk with are often not the survivors themselves, but their friends and family — who are often plagued with anger, guilt, and confusion.
At least one in four women and one in seven men has been abused by a current or former intimate partner. This means we all know someone who has been, or who is currently being, abused. An abusive relationship can be difficult to detect in the beginning, since abusers often appear charming and kind at first. It may start as subtle jealousy and isolation, but soon escalate to controlling and threatening behavior, and eventually physical and sexual violence.
It can be frightening to realize that someone we care about is in danger, and it often makes us feel helpless. If you recognize these warning signs in someone’s relationship, you are not alone, and there are ways you can help.
1. Tell them you are worried about them. When said with compassion, and without judgment, this statement lets them know that you care, and may also help them feel less alone. Abuse causes immense isolation, and it’s possible you may be the only person they are able to talk with. They may also be starting to question, and be concerned about, some of their partner’s behaviors. Letting them know that you are worried shows that they aren’t just imagining it — as the abuser would like them to believe — and that someone else is actually concerned about their safety, as well.
2. Ask what they would like to see happen. Too often, we try to “help” by telling someone who is being abused what they should do. But, trying to make decisions for them is exactly what’s being done in their relationship. They don’t need this type of control from friends and family. Asking about what they would like to see happen puts power back into their hands — power that has likely been taken away. This question should be offered without judgment, and we must be willing to accept any answer, including that they want to stay and work on their relationship. If that answer worries you, it is alright to let them know that you are concerned about their safety — but remain supportive.
3. Offer to call an advocacy program for them, or with them. People often think that domestic violence programs only offer emergency shelter, which can be intimidating to someone who may not be ready to leave. But, the fact is that shelters not only offer a safe place to stay, they also offer assistance with employment, housing, and parenting resources. Plus, they have advocates who are available to talk, believe, and support, and can also help your friend plan their next steps — no matter what they decide. Simply having another caring person on their side, in addition to you, can help them feel more secure and able to move forward. To reach a local advocacy program, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
4. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. One common tactic utilized by abusive partners is to blame the victim for the abuse. So, it’s very likely that your friend is feeling a lot of shame and confusion. They are probably wondering what they could have done differently. Listen to them, and try to empathize with their confusion. But, let them know that it does not matter what they did, or did not do; no one has a right to hurt, scare, or control them. There is never a justification for abuse, and it is never the victim’s fault.
5. Be there to support them, whatever they decide. Too often, our message is, “I’m here for you, if you leave.” But, when we make our love and support conditional, we sound just like the abuser. And by doing so, we are contributing to the shame and isolation that victims feel. A victim will often receive support the first few times they reach out for help, but after a while, we get frustrated and start backing away. At that point, we let the abuser win. The victim is now further isolated, feels even more ashamed, and is much less likely to reach out for help again — they are in more danger than ever before. Make sure they know you support them, and that you will continue to do so — unconditionally.
When someone you know is being abused, your presence and concern are incredibly important, empowering, and could ultimately save their life. So please, keep listening, keep supporting, keep caring — and never give up. Your unconditional support matters — and so do you.
Doorways provides shelter and services to individuals and families in Arlington, Virginia. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in our community, call Arlington’s 24-hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline 703-237-0881 for information and support. Please call 911 if you are experiencing a life-threatening situation. Not in Arlington? Please see alternative resources here.
How Can You Help Someone Who Is Being Abused?
If you know someone who is being abused, the most important thing to do is listen and let them know you are concerned for their safety. Be supportive and acknowledge that the situation is very difficult and scary. Help them recognize that the abuse is not their fault, reassure them that they are not alone, and let them know that there is help and support available. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen to them. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Be non-judgmental — they will need your support even more during those times.
One of the most critical services Doorways provides at our Domestic Violence Safehouse, on our 24-hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline, and in our Court Advocacy Program is safety planning. Here are some of the important topics we discuss with those experiencing abuse:
Every cell phone can be tracked through GPS or tracking devices. Smartphones can even have apps installed that run constantly without the user’s knowledge. If the survivor needs to call a hotline or another number that would raise suspicion from their abuser, they should use a public phone or borrow a phone from someone else. When they leave the relationship, it is best to remove the battery from their phone and dispose of it.
Survivors of abuse can usually tell when their abuser is escalating the violence. At these times, it is important to stay out of the two most dangerous rooms in the house: the kitchen and the bathroom. These rooms have hard surfaces and weapons that can cause serious injury.
An Escape Plan
Leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. Survivors should try to pack a bag that has copies or originals of important documents for themselves and their children and changes of clothes or personal items that they would not want to leave behind. If possible, they can keep this in a place that is easily accessible if they need to leave hurriedly but will also not draw the attention of their abuser.
Code Words and Signals
If a survivor reaches the point where they are in severe danger but are not able to call 911 or escape, it is good to also have another way of reaching out. For example, someone who needs to immediately escape their home could call a supportive friend and give a code word that would signal the friend to call the police. A dish towel hung outside the window could signal to someone that the family is in distress.
How to Help a Friend Experiencing Abuse
As a friend, family member or co-worker of someone in an unhealthy or violent relationship, you may be the first person to recognize your loved one is not safe. There are many things you can do to maintain your relationship with them and assist them in building a safety net for them, their children and their pets. Here are a few suggestions.
How to Help a Friend Who’s Experienced Sexual Violence
When a friend, family member or coworker discloses that they have experienced sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault, you may be the first person with whom the survivor shares their story. The assault may have happened recently or long ago. Your reaction to their disclosure is critical. There are many things you can do to support the survivor and empower them in their healing process.
Stay connected – Abuse thrives in isolation. Now more than ever, someone who is being abused may find it difficult to stay connected to people who care about their safety. Reach out, check in on them, and let them know they are not alone.
Be open to learning – Be willing to listen to what they are telling you, without judgement. Give them space and time to share their story. It may be difficult for them to share, so practice patience, empathy, and active listening. Try paraphrasing or repeating back what they’re telling you. Remember, this is not about you. It is important that you support them, regardless of whether they leave or stay.
Believe them – It’s important to believe what they are telling you, without asking for additional details or “proof.” The abuser may be telling them no one will believe them if they reach out for help. Believing them shows your support and can serve to lessen the abuser’s control over them. Do not judge or shame them, and do not try to justify or make excuses for the abuser’s behavior. Abuse is never, ever the victim’s fault.
Share your concerns – It is okay to share your honest concerns about their safety. Try using “I” statements. For example, “I am worried about you. I want you to be safe.” Remember not to pressure or force your opinion.
Help them develop a plan, if they’re ready – See the list below for safety planning tips, but keep in mind that every person’s plan will be different. Consider using a“safe” word, when appropriate. This is a code word they can use to let you know they are in danger without the abuser knowing. Agree on what you should do if they use this word. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet them if they have to leave in a hurry.
Offer to help find resources – Knowledge is power. You want to help empower them to make an informed decision. Remember that you cannot ‘rescue’ them – this is their life. However, if they do want to reach out for help, ther e are local domestic violence agencies throughout the state that have trained advocates who can help them safety plan and consider their options.
To find a local program, call the NJ Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-572-7233, or the Deaf Helpline 609-619-1888, or visit NJCEDV’s Guide to Services.
Take care of yourself – Knowing that someone you care about is being abused can be emotionally draining for you, too. Make sure you are checking in with yourself and practicing self-care. If you, at any point, are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, resentful, or start prioritizing other people’s needs before your own, make sure to seek out help and support.
However, there are some common indicators that should give us reason for concern. While many of the factors alone may not be cause to suspect abuse, considered within the context of the other factors, they can indicate a pattern of Power and Control that characterizes domestic abuse.
Does the person about whom you are worried…
- Act like something is wrong? People experiencing abuse may display a range of emotions, including anger, anxiety, sadness, stress, or fear. They may seem restless, preoccupied, jumpy, or agitated. They may try to hide their emotions or be reluctant to share their feelings openly, or to discuss their partner or relationship.
- Seem to be withdrawing from friends, family and community, perhaps by changing plans, backing out of commitments, or not answering the phone or the door? Isolation is a common tactic that abusers use to keep their partners of having a healthy support system.
- Miss work unexpectedly, arrive late, or frequently call in sick? Do they receive lots of personal phone calls from their partner while at work? Do they try to arrange their schedule according to their partner’s wishes? Do they seem unable to focus on the job? Abusive people frequently focus their tactics on their partner’s job, because that job affords the partner things that represent a threat to their control—for example, income, health insurance, emotional support, connection with supportive people, etc.
- Have to ask a partner’s permission to have or spend money? Have major financial difficulties, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy? Abusers often use access to finances as a way of controlling behavior and rendering their partner dependent upon them.
- Have bruises, broken bones, black eyes or other unexplained injuries? These can be signs of physical abuse—especially if seen often or repeatedly.
These are just some potential warning signs; the list is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead is a starting place for concerned questions. There are many ways abuse manifests.
If you are worried about someone in your life, there are actions you can take to help. For starters:
- Inform yourself. Gather all the information you can about domestic abuse. This website is a great place to start.
- Call the helpline. One of the biggest myths is that our helpline is only for people experiencing abuse directly, but one of an advocate’s most important roles is to help others in the community offer real support the survivors they know. An advocate can be an excellent source of support for both you and the person you want to help. Do not call the helpline for someone else. Call to educate yourself and find out how to be most supportive and helpful to someone who is being abused.
- Ask the questions… And believe the answers. Often, people experiencing abuse are experiencing isolation and control. They are frequently told that no one really cares what happens to them, or that no one will believe them. By asking them about their experience without judgment or agenda, you are sending the message that you care about what is happening to them.
Initiating this conversation can be difficult. Some tips to help:
- Say what you see: “I heard your partner yelling at you the other evening…”
- Express concern: “I am worried about you.”
- Show support: “No one deserves to be treated that way.”
- Refer them for help: “I have the phone number to…”
If your friend begins to talk about the abuse:
- Just Listen. Listening can be one of the best ways to help. Don’t imagine you will be the one person to “save” your friend. Instead, recognize that it takes a lot of strength and courage to live with an abusive partner, and understand your role as a support person, rather than “fixer” or “expert.”
- Keep it Confidential. Don’t tell other people that they may not want or be ready to tell. If there is a direct threat of violence, tell them that you both need to tell someone right away, and call either the helpline or 911 in an emergency.
- Provide Information, Not Advice. Give them the phone number to the helpline ( 1.866.834.HELP ) or to their local domestic violence resource center . Be careful about giving advice. They know best how to judge the risks they face.
- Be There and Be Patient. Coping with abuse takes time. Your friend may not do what you expect them to do when you expect them to do it. If you think it is your responsibility to fix the problems, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust, and remember that your friend is the one who will have to live with the consequences of the decision-making, and is doing their best to manage those risks in a complex situation.
Remember—if you are worried about someone you know, or if you have questions about behaviors that seems concerning, call the helpline: 1.866.834.HELP . An advocate can talk to you about your concerns and can help you decide what to do next.
Physical abuse in relationships tends to get worse over time. Victims receiving a constant barrage of intimidation begin to believe they are at fault. Social worker Wendy James suggests that a friend can help restore the self-esteem necessary to confront the abuser. She also discusses how women can love a person while setting limits, seeking shelter and filing charges.
Interviewer: What to do if you know a friend is being physically abused by their partner. That’s next on The Scope.
Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah, physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You are listening to The Scope.
Interviewer: To talk today, with Wendy James. She’s a social worker at the University of Utah. Wendy, women are being abused, that’s just the state of the fact of it and many of them, a lot of them are not really telling people that they are being physically abused by their partner at home. If you know someone that’s been physically abused, how do you help them?
Wendy: Well, if they come to you, it’s difficult to approach them if they don’t approach you, because there’s a lot of shame and guilt associated, more to the reasons women don’t leave. But if she does, assure her that it’s not her fault and that she needs to set limits in the relationship.
Interviewer: Define those limits.
Wendy: I will. And they are not just for herself and her safety, but her children’s safety and also a loving thing to do for her husband. Oftentimes women are frightened to do this, but it is a loving thing to keep everyone safe. What I would do is give her information about she can call the police. They can actually arrest her husband. Then there are women shelters that she and her children can go to where they can be safe, where they can get the legal consultation and help. I would tell her that if the abuse occurs that she needs to go to the hospital, that she needs to document that if there are any injuries, get pictures. If she ever wants to file an assault case, which she should do. A lot of women hesitate to do that for lots of reasons.
Interviewer: Right. I guess what I’m curious about now is that you’re mentioning all these things that more of being there for her. What can a friend do physically? Can I drive her to the hospital? Should I be the one to go with her? Should I be they want to contact the police if she’s scared to?
Wendy: That has happened. People can call the police and of course if she has a support to take her to the hospital and reassure her. Find a counselor, give her information about the shelter. Any kind of information in any way that you could support her. Just assure her that it’s not her fault because abusers usually have lots of reasons they tell women why. well, women or men, but usually it’s women, that are abusing them and often time women self-esteem is so low that the start to the believe it.
Interviewer: So first things first, you’ve got to get her confidence back to make her aware this isn’t her fault.
Interviewer: Any final thoughts on what to do if you know a friend is being physically abused at home by their partner.
Wendy: One thing is just to educate her and let her know that abuse is not going to stop no matter how much she wants it to without some kind of intervention and help. And that the abuse will get more severe and more frequent.
It is not always easy to know how to how to support a friend or family member who is experiencing domestic abuse. But you can make a difference.
Here are some basic steps you can take:
- Do not be afraid to talk to someone who you think needs help. Try to be direct, tell them you are worried about them and concerned for their safety and want to help
- Give them time to open up. It takes strength to trust someone enough to confide in them about experiencing abuse
- Offer reassurance that that the abuse is not ‘normal’, that no one deserves to be hurt, threatened, or controlled and that abusive behaviour can never be justified
- Don’t tell a person experiencing abuse to leave, or criticise them for staying. It is important that your friend/family member feels able to talk to you even if they stay in the relationship
- Focus on supporting your friend/family member, not on the abusive partner. Build up their confidence, and acknowledge how well they are coping in a challenging and stressful situation
- Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family. Help your friend/family member develop and/or sustain contact with other people. This can help to boost self-esteem
- Help with developing a safety plan and contacting local organisations that can offer support. There is information about how to do this in Keeping safe and How to get help
- Ask if your friend/family member has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with them to see the GP or go to hospital
- Do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by offering to talk to the abuser. It will only make the situation worse for the person being abused
- Be patient. Leaving an abusive relationship is a process. It can take time for a person to recognise they are being abused and even longer to make safe decision about what to do. Recognising the abuse and being there for someone is an important first step
What might a person experiencing domestic abuse be feeling? Why is it difficult to leave an abusive relationship?
There are many practical and psychological barriers to ending an abusive relationship:
- The victim may be overwhelmed by fear of harm to themselves or to children/family members/friends. They may also be fearful that they will not be believed if they tell people what is happening
- Belief that the abusive partner will change because they show remorse and promise to stop the abusive behaviour
- Feeling responsible for the abuse and guilty about leaving
- Financial, practical or emotional dependence on the abuser
- Fear that the abuser will take the children away or that the children will be emotionally harmed by the loss of a parent (even if that parent is abusive)
- Feelings of shame, guilty or embarrassment
- Fear of being alone and/or having nowhere to go
It takes a great deal of courage to leave someone who controls and intimidates you.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) is often called ‘Clare’s Law’ after the domestic homicide of Clare Woods in 2009.
The aim of Clare’s Law is to help individuals make informed choices on whether to continue a relationship if their partner has a history of abuse. Support will be given to assist in these decisions.
Clare’s Law allows any individual the right to ask the police if they feel their partner may have a history of abuse which poses a risk to them. Any third party can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member.
Once a Clare’s Law application has been made, police and partner agencies will carry out a range of checks. If these reveal a record of abusive offences, or suggest a risk of violence or abuse, the police will consider sharing this information
If it is decided a disclosure should be made, this only will be made to the person at risk. The police will not inform the person at risk who requested the information.
Any disclosure will be made in person – for safety reasons the disclosure is not made in writing and no documentation will be given.
How to make an application
- Phone 101 (the non-emergency police number)
- Visit a local police station
- If you believe there to be an immediate risk of harm phone 999
What if my friend is the abuser?
It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. You may not even want to admit that this person is being abusive. But remember, when you remain silent or make excuses for someone’s behaviour, you are condoning the abuse.
Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change, there are ways you can encourage them to change their behaviour. It is not easy for people to admit that their abusive behaviour is a choice and accept responsibility for it. They may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the abuse. Do not support the abuse in any way. Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help your friend or family member recognise that their behaviour is abusive.
How you can support someone you know who is being abused.
It can be difficult to know what to do if you have a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship. If they are at serious risk of harm always phone 999 immediately.
You can also call Sussex Crimestoppers 24/7 to report abuse:
If you have spotted signs of domestic abuse, the next step is to reach out and support them. For many people, talking to someone can be the first step towards safety. Once things are out in the open your friend may be able to see their situation more clearly. Talking about their experiences can make them feel stronger and less overwhelmed.
If the person is experiencing domestic abuse they may be feeling very alone, so it’s important to listen and offer non-judgmental support.
Many people believe that domestic abuse is a private matter, to be dealt with behind closed doors. The reality is that domestic abuse is a crime that will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men at some point in their life.
Find support and advice
Intervening and getting between your friend and their partner can be dangerous, for both of you. Encourage them to contact the agencies detailed on these pages.
You can call these agencies on behalf of your friend or relative to see what support they offer and advice they can give you to help.
How To Help a Friend
Most survivors of sexual and relationship violence disclose the assault or abuse to at least one other person, usually a friend. You can’t rescue your friend or solve their problems. But being there to listen, believe and support your friend in a positive way can greatly influence their healing process. The following suggestions/information can help you be a supportive friend.
Listen and Support
It’s tough to be prepared when a friend tells you that they been the victim of sexual or relationship abuse. Faced with that situation, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Remember, you can’t rescue your friends or solve their problems. You can only provide support.
- Support and understanding are essential. It takes a lot of courage for a survivor to share their experience;
- Try to provide a safe/non-judgmental environment, emotional comfort, and support for the survivor to express feelings;
- Let them know that they can talk with you. Listen. Don’t rush to provide solutions.
Believe Your Friend
The most common reason people choose not to tell anyone about sexual abuse is the fear that the listener won’t believe them. People rarely lie or exaggerate about abuse; if someone tells you, it’s because they trust you and needs someone to talk to.
- People rarely make up stories of abuse. It is not necessary for you to decide if they were “really hurt.” If the survivor says they were hurt, that should be enough;
- Believe what your friend tells you. It may have been difficult for them to talk to you and trust you.
- Sexual assault is NEVER the survivor’s fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted by what they wear, say or do. Let the survivor know that only the perpetrator is to blame;
- The survivor needs to hear that fears, anxieties, guilt, and anger are normal, understandable and acceptable emotions;
- Remember, no one ever deserves to be abused or harassed.
- Don’t press for details – let your friend decide how much they want to share. Ask them how you can help;
- Survivors have to struggle with complex decisions and feelings of powerlessness, trying to make decisions for them may only increase that sense of powerlessness.
- You can be supportive by helping your friend to identify all the available options and then help by supporting their decision-making process.
- The survivor can’t just “forget it” or just move on. Recovery is a long term process and each individual moves at their own pace.
- Encourage the survivor to seek medical attention, report the assault, and or contact SHARPP. Remember, the survivor must ultimately make the decision as to what to do. They are the expert in their own lives. Don’t push. Remember, support your friend’s choices no matter what they decide.
- Don’t tell others what the survivor tells you. Let the individual decide who they will tell. It is important not to share information with others who are not involved;
- If you do need to share information for your friend’s safety, get permission by letting your friend know what you will share and with whom it will be shared;
- Don’t confront the perpetrator. Though you might want to fix the situation or get back at the abuser, this could make things worse, for you and your friend.
- An important part of helping the survivor is to identify ways in which the survivor can re-establish their sense of physical and emotional safety. You are a step in the process. Ask your friend what would make they feel safe and how you can help them accomplish this.
- If the stalking or harassment is ongoing, help your friend to develop a plan of what to do if they are in immediate danger. Having a specific plan and preparing in advance can be important if the violence escalates.
- SHARPP can assist with creating safety plans that are specific to the situation and individuals involved.
Things you can say
It is hard to know what to say to a friend when they confide in you. Refrain from asking a lot of questions, instead, support your friend with these phrases:
- It’s not your fault
- I’m sorry this happened
- I believe you
- How can I help you?
- I am glad you told me
- I’ll support your choices
- You’re not alone
You may also find it helpful to share with your friend what you have learned about violence. This is also a good time to share with them your belief in the possibility to heal. Let your friend know that you believe that them and that they have strength and capacity to heal.
Get Support for Yourself
Sometimes the family and friends of victims can also feel the impact of the crime and experience emotional and physical reactions. This is called secondary victimization. Hearing about relationship abuse, sexual assault, and stalking can be upsetting. You may feel angry, sad, frustrated, and helpless. If you have experienced crime or other traumatic events in the past, your friend’s experience might bring up memories and feelings of that time. You may want to talk about your feelings but also respect your friend’s privacy. You too can contact SHARPP and speak to an advocate confidentially to get help for yourself.
If you have questions about any of the material on this page, please call SHARPP at (603) 862-3494 or reach out online via our webchat.