Providing services to victims of domestic and sexual violence since 1983
You're probably wondering why he or she stays. Why would anyone want to stay in an unhealthy and abusive relationship? The answer isn't so simple, and it's hard to truly understand the cycle of abuse unless you've actually been there yourself.
Before trying to help, be sure to check your judgment at the door. Making comments about "why they stay" or "they should just leave," are unhelpful at best, and hurtful at worst.
So what DO you say to someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse? How do you help a loved one who is being abused by his or her partner?
How to Help a loved one who is being abused:
Set up some time to talk with your friend while no one else is around - no distractions from the conversation. Tell your abused loved one that you are concerned for them. Point out specific instances in which you have been concerned for them.
Help your loved one recognize that they are being abused - that abuse is not normal. It may be that your abused friend is so deeply involved in the situation, that he or she may feel the abuse is normal.
Acknowledge that the abusive situation is VERY scary and VERY hard to deal with.
Reassure your abused loved one that the abuse is NOT their fault.
Remind your loved one that he or she is not alone - and that there is help, support and a way out of the abusive situation. One of the most insidious ways an abuser controls his or her victim is by cutting him or her off from loving friends and family. Remind your loved one that you love him or her NO MATTER WHAT.
Be supportive and listen to your abused loved one. Remember - it is really hard to talk about the abuse.
Let your abused loved one know that you are available at any point in time to help your loved one.
Let your abused loved one know that you believe them.
It is your loved one's choice whether or not they choose to leave their abuser. Respect their choice.
Be non-judgmental. It's hard to watch someone you love go back to an abusive relationship - but this is their choice.
Encourage your abused loved one to participate in activities outside of the abuse.
If you are helping the abused victim, you need to be aware that the offender may target you or your family/pets/house. While it is good and noble to help, make sure you are keeping yourself safe first.
Help the abuse victim develop a safety plan. Read more on our website about safety plans.
Consider putting together an emergency escape kit. This needs to be compact and easily hidden. Useful items include a train or bus pass, prepaid cellphone with minutes, gift cards for gas stations, grocery stores, whatever. Often the abuser controls every penny of the money, and communication is severely monitored and restricted, so the victim needs some basics to escape. Include the Women’s Resource Center 24/7/365 hotline number 304-255-2559. Meet the victim at a safe place such as the grocery store when you are fairly certain their abuser is away from them and give the kit to them discreetly.
If you have an old cell phone lying around, give it to the domestic violence victim. Even without service, it will dial 911. You can also use a prepaid cell phone sold at most pharmacies.
Offer to store copies of important paperwork and a set of clothes at your house for the abuse victim, in case the victim has to leave in a hurry.
Encourage your loved one to talk to people who can help and support him or her. Encourage him or her, if it’s safe to do so, to call our hotline 24/7/365 at 304-255-2559.
If your loved one will not be staying with you after escaping, offer to take their pets until they can get settled. It's not uncommon for abusers to punish their victim by harming a beloved pet.
Don't confront the abuser yourself, no matter how tempting it is. If the victim can't escape right away, or escapes and later returns, your confrontation can actually escalate the abuse. Confronting the abuser can also make you a target. Keep your support loud and proud to your loved one, of course, but be safe and smart about it.
Offer to go to the police, court, or lawyer with your friend - as moral support.
Offer specific help - to listen, to help with transportation, to help watch the kids.
Remember - no matter what, you cannot rescue someone who is being abused. While it may be really hard to watch someone you love be abused, the person who is living with the domestic violence must be the one who makes the decision to leave.
Let your loved one who is living with domestic abuse know that you will be by their side - no matter what. If they choose to stay or go, you'll be there for them.
As frustrating as it is to watch a battered loved one return to his or her abuser, remember that this is not your life. You need to love your friend just as he or she is. The priority in this situation is not you - it's your loved one. Remember that.
Things TO Say To A Domestic Violence Victim:
"It's not your fault."
"You're not to blame for the abuse."
"You're not alone."
"You cannot change [abuser's name]'s behavior."
"Abuse isn't [abusive partner's name]'s loss of control - it's a means of controlling YOU."
"Your actions don't cause the abuse."
"Apologies and promises are a form of manipulation."
How NOT To Help A Loved One Who Is Being Abused:
A domestic violence victim is already unsure of his or her worth. An abuser can easily manipulate a domestic violence victim to believe that he or she is really the "bad" one and "deserves" what he or she gets. So when dealing with someone who is already unstable and fragile from long bouts of domestic violence, it's important to proceed very carefully.
Here are some things NOT to say or do to a domestic violence victim:
Don't shame the victim by even IMPLYING that the abuse is your loved one's fault.
Don't criticize your abused loved one or try to guilt him or her into leaving. It's unfair and it's not your job. While it's hard to sit by and watch a loved one be abused, it is up to him or her to decide to make the change.
Don't tell the victim "If it was me, I'd kick him/her out, just leave, call the cops", etc. Unless you're the one being abused, you have no idea how bad it can get. A significant number of abused women are killed by their abuser after they leave or attempt to leave. Escape can be extremely difficult.
Do NOT blame the victim for the domestic abuse. Never, EVER insinuate that it is his or her fault that he or she is being abused.
Don't imply that leaving a domestically abusive relationship is easy. There are no quick, easy solutions.
Don't recommend marital counseling to someone who is being physically or emotionally abused. It's dangerous for the victim and won't lead to a resolution.
Things NOT To Say To A Domestic Violence Victim:
"You should leave now."
"You should go back into the (abusive situation) and try a little harder."
"How about *I* talk to your [abusive] partner for you?"