How to support someone you think is being abused
Your support can make a big difference to someone who is being abused.
It can be hard to know what to do if you think someone is in a domestic violence relationship. The most important thing that you can do is to make that person feel supported and encouraged. If the person feels isolated and judged then it is less likely that they will seek help and be able to make informed decisions.
How can you tell if someone is in a domestic violence relationship?
Sometimes it is difficult to know whether someone is being abused.
Some of the warning signs to look out for:
- Does she seem scared of her partner or anxious to please him?
- Does her partner put her down or humiliate her in front of others?
- Has she become depressed or unusually quiet since being with him?
- Is she not seeing friends or family anymore, or much less than she use too?
- Does her partner get very jealous of her when she talks to other people or accuses her of seeing other people?
- Does she stop her phone calls when her partner enters the room?
- Does her partner call or text her all the time to check up on her?
- Does she have any physical injuries like cuts, bruises, broken bones or sprains?
- Is she comfortable leaving her children with her partner?
- Does her partner always tell her what to do, control her or make all the decisions?
- Does her partner control how she uses her money and keeps her bank card or key card from her?
- Does her partner follow her or harass her even after they have broken up?
Should I get involved?
A lot of people feel that what happens in a relationship is private and that they shouldn’t interfere with personal issues. However, domestic violence is everybody’s business. If we fail to act or to say something, then the violence can continue.
What you say or do can make a big impact on someone who is being abused.
How do I approach her?
The most important thing you can do is to let the person know that you are there for them, and that you support them no matter what their decision.
It is sometimes hard to know how to approach someone who you think is being abused. You must approach the person in a sensitive way. It is important to approach her when she is alone or when it is safe to talk.
You could start off with “I’m worried about you because I’ve noticed that…” or “you’ve been a bit quiet lately, is everything ok…”.
If she is not ready to talk, then that is ok. She may be feeling ashamed, nervous or scared. Reassure her that you are there for her and you will not judge her or make her feel ashamed.
When she is ready to talk, the best thing that you can do is to listen to her and believe her.
How can I help her?
Make sure she knows that domestic violence is never her fault. Everybody gets angry, but anger is no excuse for violence. Violence is a choice and it is not normal.
Let her know that you are worried about her and her children. Tell her that you are there to support her and ask her if you can do anything to help.
Listen to what she has to say, take her seriously and believe her. People often downplay the abuse so it has probably taken a lot of courage for her to talk to you about it. Even if you think her partner is a nice person, perpetrators can often be charming but show a different side of themselves in the home.
Encourage her and try to build up her confidence in herself. Let her know you think she is brave to talk about the abuse and praise her for seeking help.
Check in with her from time to time, to make sure she is alright. Offer to help her with practical things like babysitting, cooking for her, driving her to the doctors, or providing her with a place to stay for a few nights.
Provide her with some helpful information and let her know what services are available to her and how she can access them. She may not be comfortable with talking to you about her relationship so let her know that there are other people she can talk to who can provide her with support. Assist her in accessing these services if she requests it.
Focus on how she is managing and how his behaviour is affecting her.
Let her know that the way he is treating her is wrong.
Talk about ways in which she can keep herself safe and also her children.
What not to do
Sometimes people who are in domestic violence relationships may blame themselves for the violence and say ‘it’s my fault’. Make sure you let her know that it is never the fault of the victim and that abuse is a crime. No one ever deserves to be abused and violence is never a solution. Domestic violence is a choice and is a way for him to keep control in the relationship.
Avoid blaming alcohol as an excuse for violence. Alcohol or drugs do not cause domestic violence, his attitudes and need for control causes the violence. The violence may be more severe and frequent when he is intoxicated but it is still his choice to inflict that abuse in order to maintain his control.
Try not to tell her what to do and what decisions she should make. She may have lost a lot of her self-esteem and confidence, and telling her what to do may push her away further. Try to listen to her rather than give her advice. Support her in finding her confidence so that she can make her own decisions.
Don’t pressure her to leave or to get frustrated if she stays with her partner. Leaving any relationship is hard, let alone a violent relationship. Let her make her own decisions and support her in this process.
Avoid making negative comments about her partner. If you openly criticise her partner, she may feel the need to protect him or defend him. Instead, focus on her feelings and wellbeing.
Avoid confronting the partner if this puts you or her in danger.
Focus on her safety
It is important to work out with her how she and her children can keep safe. This can make her feel more empowered and less alone in her situation.
You can help her to:
- Plan where she and her children could go in an emergency or if she decides to leave. This could be for instance at a safe family’s house or at a local women’s refuge.
- Prepare an excuse for why she might need to leave quickly.
- Prepare a code word that means she needs help or to call the police.
- Prepare an emergency bag for clothes and important belongings or documents like keys, drivers licence or medication. Talk with her about whether she is able to put some money in a safe place, just in case she needs to leave quickly.
- Get information including information about Intervention Orders/Domestic Violence Orders (link to DVO page).
Why doesn’t she just leave?
Sometimes it is hard to understand why someone will stay in a relationship when they are being treated so badly. It might seem easy from the outside for her to just leave. But this may be more difficult than you think. It is hard to imagine how it feels to be abused and there is no way to fully understand what affects the abuse has had on her.
It is hard enough to leave an intimate relationship, but even harder if the relationship is violent or abusive. Sometimes as an outsider you may think that it is partly her fault if she does not leave him, but it is hard to tell what she is really up against.
Leaving a relationship can be dangerous. Of the total number of domestic violence murders, about 75% occur when the woman is trying to leave the relationship or has left the relationship.
Reasons why she might not leave:
- She might be afraid of what he might do to her or her children
- She has lost a lot of her self-confidence and does not believe she is strong enough to leave him
- Pressure to stay from family, friends, community or church
- She still loves her partner
- She would have to move away from her community friends or family if she left
- She might not have any money, income or anywhere to stay
- She might want to stay for the “sake of the children”
- She might have religious beliefs that marriage is for ‘better or for worse’
- He might hurt her pets
- She may feel the abuse is her fault
Often there will be a combination of reasons why she does not leave the relationship. It is important to take these reasons seriously and not to make her feel like there is something wrong with her for not leaving. Instead encourage her to explore options of how to keep safe and not to feel guilt or shame.
Sometimes the abuse worsens once she leaves the relationship. Help her to make an informed decision and let her know of the services that can help her.
Remember, if a woman tells you she is being abused, or has been abused, the most important thing you can do is to listen to her and to make sure she knows you believe her and are there to help her.
If you know someone is in danger please call police immediately on 000.
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