Last year over 1.4 million women were victims of domestic violence in the UK and separate reports indicate that between 60-70% of people know someone who is, or has been a victim of abuse. Despite many preconceptions about who are or may become victims of domestic – there is not one type of victim. Anyone can become a victim – people of all cultures, races, ages, classes, appearances and educational backgrounds. Rates are at an all time high and this kind of relationship should have no place in our society – it is important that we all acknowledge our responsibility to tackle this but whilst remembering it is extremely complex and therefore understandably, for outsiders, it can be really difficult to comprehend.
So what do you do if you think your friend is being abuse? You don’t go in all guns blazing and accuse their partner for one. You also shouldn’t just randomly bring it up when you’re with a large group of friends or family. You don’t go ahead and call the police with no evidence or hard facts. You need to be sensitive and considerate – even if you aren’t certain but want to ask for your own peace of mind, which you always should, do so with tact, empathy and compassion. Now, we often think we are right and we know best – but we don’t. Even when we mean well, our heart is in the right place and our intentions are good – it doesn’t mean we know how to respond to difficult situations or handle them. Now this isn’t a criticism of you – domestic abuse is very complicated and has many layers to it. People who work with victims, and perpetrators, are highly specialised trained professionals who didn’t come into these roles overnight and even face many challenges once they’re in those roles. So what do you do if you think a friend is being abused? Of course, if they are in immediate danger, you call the police, but what can you do to support them in their day to day life and make it a little easier? We know it can be tough and you can feel conflicted what to do, we know the risks involved if handling it incorrectly, so here are so do’s and don’ts when to supporting a friend or family member who is a victim of abuse.
How to support those who is a victim of domestic abuse – Our Do’s and Don’ts
Express your concerns
Tell them you are worried – help her to understand what has given you reason to be concerned about her and the risk she is at. Even if you are not 100% sure you are right, if you’re wrong you can laugh about it at a later date and she’ll understand you had her best interests at heart, whereas if she is being abused, and you don’t say anything, you could be missing out on a chance to encourage her to open up and seek help.
Don’t judge or blame
It isn’t their fault and although you might not understand why they are still with someone whose behaviour is so abusive – and frankly illegal, it is not your place to judge. No one wants to be abused and although it is normal for couples to bicker – it is important to remember that no one deserves to be controlled or abused – physically, sexually or emotionally. It takes a lot of confidence and bravery to open up about abuse – if they have opened up to you they obviously value and trust you. If you then attack or blame – call them stupid for staying or tolerating this behaviour or shout at them, it’s likely that they will just shut off and not come to you again – and making them feel even more isolated can be dangerous as it’ll mean they don’t come to you when they’re in potential danger and just play into the hands of their abuser.
They’re so used to being put down, called names, made to feel stupid and living their life in fear – your role as a friend is to build them back up again and remind them that they’re not these things. They might not believe you and might even find it hard to take the compliments, but this can make a whole lot of difference. Remind them or their special skills or good qualities – remind them they are loved and that they deserve to be loved. They have often become so isolated that they stop socialising or doing things that they love so you could encourage them to do things they enjoy and offer to go with them – this could be going to the gym, dance classes, shopping or to dinner. You know them best so think about their hobbies or interests and plan a night in, pamper day or fun day out – something to lift their spirits, make them feel great about themselves and have a laugh.
Don’t try to give advice
Although you mean well, you’re not a professional and you don’t want to offer advice that isn’t factually correct or could put them into more danger.
Encourage her to seek professional help
There are many charities and organisations set up to support victims of domestic abuse along with support groups – research what is in their local area and offer to take them there. It is nearly certain that their mental health will be suffering as a result so suggesting they see a therapist or their doctor could be really helpful.
Don’t tell them to leave
This has to be their decision and will only come when they’re ready. By telling them to leave they may feel hostile, attacked or judged and therefore not want to come to you in the future. Wouldn’t you rather be there for her and make sure she feels constantly supported? It’s really important to remember it’s very hard to leave and this is when they are most at danger with 75% of the murders from partners/ex partners comes in the 6 months after leaving. It may seem black and white to an outsider but it is far more complex and there are multiple reasons why this is challenging and even life threatening at times, for a victim to do.
Support them if they leave
Just because she’s left the relationship it doesn’t mean the suffering is over. They may still be subject to abuse and harassment from their ex-partner and this is statistically when the abuse gets worst. Emotionally they will be very damaged as a result of on-going abuse with their self-esteem and confidence at unimaginable lows and are likely to be suffering from post-traumatic stress. Also, although it may be hard for you to believe, they may still love their partner – it wasn’t always bad and these good memories can be really hard to understand or let go of, maybe they’re holding onto the person they first met and can be left feeling lonely. Break-ups are never easy and we can all relate to that – so try to imagine how this may be to someone who has been put through a roller-coaster of extreme highs and lows with on-going abuse.
Don’t approach their partner
We get it, you hate them. You hate what they have done to your friend or family member. You hate how their confidence has eroded and they’re no longer the person you knew them to be but listen very carefully, as tempting as it may be – DO NOT approach their partner about the abuse. Do not start to treat them differently or make tension when you are in their company. This will be hard, yes, very hard, but if you love and care about this person you will understand how this can make things a whole lot worse for them and you aren’t always going to be there to save them.
Support them if they stay
They might stay in the relationship or even go back to it after leaving – in fact, most women attempt to leave on average 5 times before they finally do. This might be hard for you to accept but you need to show, tell and reinforce that you are there for them no matter what.
Don’t take matters into your own hands
We get it, you’re angry and upset but don’t take the law into your own hands as you and the real victim can end up looking like the bad guys and far less credible. The police may not have responded how you want or given you the outcome you were expecting, but deciding to rise above the law can put you and your loved one into more danger and trouble – from both law enforcement agencies and their partner.
Speak to them in private
Don’t pick a time to speak to them when you are in a large group or are in a public, loud space. Choose somewhere quiet, safe and intimate – somewhere that you both feel comfortable and there is no risk of their partner hearing or walking in. Avoid at all costs speaking to them about their partner over the phone or via text or social media – their partner may control their social media or be over-looking or listening in on your conversations and if they sense you are talking about them, things could quickly turn very sour and you wouldn’t necessarily even know. If they message you about their partner, it’s best not to reply with anything that indicates you know anything or have discussed them before – you can never be 100% certain who you are speaking to or if they have forced them to message you in an attempt at finding out if you know anything.
Don’t expect to get it
You might not ever understand but you have to accept that. You can’t take it personally if they go back or don’t do what they have said they are going to – actually doing is much harder than it seems. Sometimes to an outsider it can be a complete shock – their partner may come across as charming, intelligent and may be a successful professional but abusers don’t have a specific look, job title or class. They don’t come with a sign on their head, in fact, they have perfectly mastered the art of manipulation and this is why they are so dangerous. It is so key that you don’t act disbelieving or dismissive of abuse someone tells you about even if you really didn’t expect it from that person, it takes a lot to open up about abuse and if you are confused and shocked, imagine how they must be feeling.
Offer to give specific help
This might be childcare or travel when they are going to appointments with support groups or so forth or it could be offering to go with them for support. Often their partner will monitor their phone calls so offering for them to use your phone to make phone calls to specific agencies or the police.
Remember you can’t save them – you can only support
You can’t save them and you can’t make the abuse stop. You can put things in place to support them, you can help to uplift them and rebuild their confidence and support them but ultimately, they won’t leave until they’re ready and you need to accept that.
Make a safety plan
This could be the best thing that you ever do with them and could save their lives. It will leave them feeling safer and you feeling slightly more at ease about their situation. This will include a good time where they can pack bags to leave – when their partner is at work or other commitments. It will include a safe place to go, escape route and could include a fund they have saved to support them leaving. Often their partner will control their finances or bank account so this must be done in a discrete way to not call for concern. It could also include an alert word or phrase that you come up with together to signal that they are in danger without their partner knowing.
Words : Jess Espin-Thurgur