Do you think someone you care about may be experiencing abuse? It can be difficult to know what to do when you feel a friend or family member is being abused, and each situation is different. Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to help someone experiencing abuse:
- Set up a time to talk that is safe and confidential.
- For the safety and comfort of the survivor, it is important that before meeting, you set up a time and place to talk away from the abusive partner where the survivor feels safe, supported, and free to speak honestly.
- Let them know you are there for them.
- Abusers often use tactics of isolation and shame to control their partners, meaning that individuals experiencing abuse feel extremely alone. Be honest by letting them know you are concerned for their safety, and be patient by letting them know you will support whatever decision they make.
- Offer specific help.
- Sometimes it can be hard for survivors to reach out for help or know what help is available. If you can help financially, tell them to what extent. Let them know if you can store copies of important papers or extra clothes for them. If you can provide transportation or a place to stay, that helps them develop their options.
- Encourage them to talk to people who can help.
- There are many organizations all over the country with the resources and experience to help individuals suffering abuse. A survivor should choose for themselves what they want to do, if anything, but it is still good to offer your support in helping find local resources. The Safe Connections Crisis Helpline, 314-531-2003; The National Domestic Violence Hotline , 800-799-SAFE (7233); the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (4673); and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, 866-331-9474, are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Help them make a safety plan.
- Leaving can be the scariest and most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. If someone you know is experiencing abuse, you can help them make a safety plan so that if and when they decide to leave, they can do so safely and carefully.
- Be supportive no matter what.
- People may choose to leave or stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. From the outside it can be difficult to understand, but it is important to make sure the survivor feels empowered to make their own decisions and knows you will continue to offer your help no matter what.
- Attempt to “rescue” them.
- Abuse is not about love, it is about controlling and overpowering another individual. Because of this, one of the most important things you should do for someone you feel is being abused is to help them feel self-empowered to take back control of their lives. As an ally, your goal should be to empower them to make their own decisions and support them throughout the entire process.
- Make judgements.
- Being in an abusive relationship can be extremely lonely and confusing. The person may still love and care about their abuser, may have very little of their own resources, may be worried about the safety of their children if they leave, or a number of other complex concerns. Reinforce your belief that violence and abuse are never acceptable, and offer your support even if they do not take steps that seem logical to you. Remember, they are the expert on their own situation, and if they don’t leave when it makes sense to you to do so, they may have reasons to move at a different pace.
- Pressure them to leave.
- Again, experiencing an abusive relationship can be extremely isolating and confusing, and leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous and difficult. There are many reasons a person may choose to leave or stay in an abusive relationship, so it is never as simple as pushing them to “just leave.” Instead, talk with them through their options and continue to offer your support no matter what decision they make.
- Feel the need to have all the answers.
- Leaving abusive relationships can be a difficult and complex process. You may have to deal with legal services, financial issues, interim housing, counseling and more. There are a number of organizations dedicated to this issue that have the resources and experience to handle the process as safely and efficiently as possible.
- Ignore the situation.
- Some people feel like they are overstepping if they get involved. Also, you may feel like it is not your place, or fear that you will insult someone if you express concern. At the end of the day, if you are expressing your concern sensitively from a place of love and support it is likely to be appreciated, whether or not the person is ready to talk or change their situation.