What To Do if You Know a Friend, Relative, Neighbor or Coworker is Being Abused? You know your co-worker, friend, neighbor, or relative is being abused at home. What can you do to help them? According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the U.S. Department of Justice, there are many things you can do to help people in this extremely difficult, emotional and dangerous situation. Begin with informing yourself.
- Gather all the information you can about domestic violence . The nine projects of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence not only offer victims safety, but also provide advocacy, support, and other needed services. Victim’s advocates can be an excellent source of support for both you and the person you want to help. Do not call a project for an abused person. Call to educate yourself and find out how to be most supportive and helpful to someone who is being abused. “People have an absolute right to be free of bodily harm,” said Phyl Rubinstein, nationally recognized domestic violence expert formerly at the University of New England . “We must act on that belief.”
There are many organizations that provide information on responding to domestic violence, such as this “tip sheet” from the NCDVTMH:
WHEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS BEING ABUSED
Safety and Well-Being Tipsheet Series
Knowing that someone you care about is being abused can be very painful. You
may feel helpless, fearful, or frustrated because you don’t know what you can do to
help. Below are some suggestions. *
Start the conversation: It can be hard to know what to say to someone whom
you think is being abused, but talking about the abuse can be very helpful for
You can start the conversation by…
• Telling her that you care about her
• Telling her that if someone is hurting her, you are available to talk about it
• Telling her that you want to help in whatever way she thinks is best
• Assuring her that you won’t share what she tells you with anyone unless she
wants you to
• Letting her know that she can talk to you about it later if she doesn’t want to
talk about it right now
What to say if someone talks to you about abuse: If someone confides in you
that he is being abused, LISTEN to him and assure him that you care and that you
want to help in whatever way he thinks is best.
• Remind him that the abuse is not his fault
• Remind him that he does not deserve to be abused
• Acknowledge that talking about it takes a lot of strength and bravery
• Ask how you can help
What not to say if someone talks to you about abuse:
• Do not say things that are judgmental or blaming
• Do not tell him what to do; instead, ask how you can help
• Do not ask why he doesn’t “just leave”
Talk with them about safety: If you are concerned about someone’s safety or
their children’s safety, don’t be afraid to say so. Ask them if they want to talk with
you about their plans for keeping themselves and their children safe. If so, you
might talk about the following:
• Places: Where do they spend their time? (Examples are home, work, car,
bus, train, church, family members’ or friends’ homes, childcare provider,
• Actions: What steps will they take to keep themselves and their children
safe while they are at each of these places?
• Allies: Whom can they trust to help them? What can those people do that
would help? What should they not do? Encourage them to talk with their
allies about their safety plan and offer to help contact them.
Encourage her to speak with an advocate: An advocate at a local domestic
violence program can help your family member or friend to think through her
options and develop strategies to keep herself and her children safe and, if she
wants to, to leave her partner. The National Domestic Violence Hotline and many
local domestic violence programs provide advocacy and safety planning services
over the phone. You can find the name and number of a local domestic violence
program in your area by calling (Maine Helpline: 1-866-834-HELP, Hearing Impaired: Maine Telecommunications Relay Services 1-800-437-1220) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or (800) 787-3224 (TTY).
Discuss how abuse can affect a person’s mental health: Experiencing abuse
can make a person feel frightened, hurt, sad, confused, angry, ashamed, hopeless,
or like he is losing his mind. If a person is living with a mental illness, experiencing
abuse can make his mental health symptoms worse. Abusers may use their
partner’s mental health condition to undermine their partner with friends, family,
the police, mental health providers, or attorneys and judges. If you are supporting
someone who is being abused, you can…
• Ask him how the abuse is affecting him
• Let him know that many people who experience abuse feel sad, hurt,
confused, angry, ashamed, or hopeless
• Let him know that these feelings are common responses to abuse and that
there is nothing “wrong” with him
• If he wants to talk with someone about how the abuse is affecting him, offer
to help him find a therapist who is knowledgeable about abusive relationships
Whether or not they leave, be supportive: There are many reasons why
someone might stay in an abusive relationship. For example, it might be more
dangerous to leave than to stay, leaving might mean that they risk losing custody
of their children, or they might love their partner even though he is abusive. Even if
someone wants to leave, it can take time to do so. If you are supporting someone
who is currently in an abusive relationship…
• Assure them that you are there to help, regardless of whether they decide to
leave the relationship
• Acknowledge that there are many factors to consider when thinking about
leaving, and offer to help them think through them
• Acknowledge that only they can make the decision about whether, and if so
when, to leave an abusive partner
• If you are concerned about their safety or their children’s safety, don’t be
afraid to say so, but remember that they are the best judge of their situation
and their safety
Take care of yourself: Supporting someone who is in an abusive relationship can
be a long and difficult process, and taking care of yourself is a critical part of this
process. Taking care of yourself includes making sure that you have your own
support, knowing your limits and respecting them, and continuing to engage in
activities that are meaningful to you. This may be especially important if you are
also a survivor of intimate partner violence or other trauma and hearing about
someone else’s experiences of abuse brings up your own experiences. Taking care
of yourself is a sign of strength, not weakness.
* A note on pronouns: The National Center believes that intimate partner violence is rooted in and upheld by gender oppression and other forms of oppression. We use the pronouns she, he, and they interchangeably in this tipsheet to bring forward the experiences of survivors who identify as women and survivors who identify as genderqueer, trans, and masculine.Copyright © 2011 National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org
And/or if you are supporting a female victim, consider this resource:
ten ways to support female victims:
- Lending a sympathetic ear may be the best help you can offer . Don’t force the issue. Simply let her confide in you at her own pace. Always validate her thoughts and feelings, offer her choices and remain respectful of her autonomy. “Never blame her for what’s happening or underestimate her potential danger. Remember that your friend must make their own decisions about their life,” advises the Department of Justice in a pamphlet entitled “Helping Battered Women.” Don’t think you’ll be the influence in her life that will rescue her, or get frustrated because she is making choices that you don’t agree with or because things are not moving as fast as you would like.
- Acknowledge that no one deserves to be hurt. Remember Domestic Violence is a crime. Rubinstein says, “sometimes we’re afraid that a woman might be insulted if we tell her our suspicions, yet it can help a woman feel OK about seeking help. Also acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage and strength to stay with an abusive partner.
- Guide your friend or relative to community services . Share the information you’ve gathered about abuse with her privately. Let her know they are not alone and that people care about them. Encourage her to seek the assistance of victim’s advocates at the local domestic violence hotline or program. “If you are offering resources, you are opening a door,” said Rubinstein.
- Give her the emotional support she needs. Battered women live with emotional as well as physical abuse. According to the Department of Justice:
The abuser probably continually tells your friend that she is a bad woman, a bad wife, and a bad mother. Without positive reinforcement from outside the home, she may begin to believe she can’t do anything right – that there really is something wrong with her. Help her examine her strengths and skills. Emphasize that she deserves a life that is free from violence.
Don’t tell her what to do, how she should feel, or make excuses for the abuser.
- Be there for her when she needs you, and tell her you’ll be there . Provide whatever you can such as transportation, childcare or financial assistance.
- Help her develop a safety plan . Help your friend think through the steps that she should take if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people she can call in an emergency. Suggest that she put together and hide a suitcase of clothing, personal items, money, social security cards, bankbooks, children’s birth certificates and school records and other important documents. Coalition advocates can assist her with the development of a plan at the domestic violence projects.
- If she decides to leave, contact the local domestic violence hotline or battered women’s shelter . Battered women frequently face the most physical danger when attempting to flee. Advocates strongly advise that you be very careful when offering and providing safety in your home. Be very discreet and talk to domestic violence project staff about the best way to handle this.
- If you hear or see battering incident occurring, call the police immediately. “It cannot be overemphasized that domestic violence is a crime that can result in serious physical injury and even death,” according to the Department of Justice. “Calling the police does not always mean the abuser will be put in jail, but it is simply the most effective way to protect the woman and her children from immediate harm.”
- Consider volunteering for your local domestic violence project . There are a number of ways you can help: staff the crisis hotline, become a member of the board of directors, be a part of t he safe home network, become a member or sponsor a special fund raising event. Call your local domestic violence project.
See it: notice that something’s wrong for either women or men:
The abused person may show some of the following signs, as a direct result of the abuse.
|Physical||Unexplained injuries, hidden injuries, bruises, black eyes, sprains, broken bones or teeth|
|Emotional||Anxious, upset, depressed, tearful, jumpy, angry, worried, restless, quiet, or confused|
|Social||Avoiding people, not answering the door or phone, cancelling events, getting into arguments|
|Financial||Overdrawn account, foreclosure or eviction, wage garnishment|
|Legal||Frequent court dates, divorce, child custody problems, child abuse investigation|
|Work||Absences, tardiness, sick days, a decrease in work quality, unable to complete tasks, becoming isolated from coworkers|
say it: talk about the abuse
Try the following steps when talking about abuse:
|1. Tell them what you see||“I noticed a bruise on your arm…”|
|2. Express concern||“I am worried about you.”|
|3. Show support||“No one deserves to be hurt.”|
|4. 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|
|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.|
|Provide Information, Not Advice||Give them the phone number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) or other local resources. 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. They 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 be patient.|
|It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. The perpetrator appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering…In order to escape accountability for the crime, the perpetrator does everything in their power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the reliability of the victim. If they cannot silence the victim absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens… the more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is the prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.|
-Herman, Judith, J.L. 1992, ‘Secondary Trauma, Stress, Self-care Issues for Clinicians, Researchers and Educators,’ Edited by B. Hudnall Stamm, PhD. Sedran Press, 1995″