If you suspect someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there are ways you can help. Domestic violence and abuse is a deeply sensitive subject, and victims often feel isolated, fearful, and burdened. It can be scary to reach out, but doing so can be a beacon of hope for someone in a devastating situation.
Read on to discover how to support a victim of domestic abuse.
1. Look For Warning Signs
Many victims of domestic violence maintain secrecy about the abusive conditions of their relationships long before you may suspect something is off. It is normal for a victim of abuse to hide the details of their relationship, but there are several things you can look out for.
Someone experiencing abuse may begin to withdraw or cancel engagements. They also may apologize more often, appear fearful or anxious, develop depressive symptoms, or start to be overly secretive about their private life.
For those who are physically abused, you may notice bruises, cuts, sprains, or other peculiar marks on their skin. Some victims, regardless of how they’re being abused, turn to substances or even share thoughts of self-harm.
2. Reach Out
When starting a conversation to offer support, it’s important to do so in a calm, safe moment. Set aside enough time to accommodate a long conversation, but keep in mind that the person may not wish to disclose much, or anything, about their situation. Still, even opening up a conversation with a potential victim can provide a lifeline of support should they choose to use it down the road. Even without details, let them know you care about them and want them to feel safe, in their relationship and in your conversation with you.
3. Listen Well
If they decide to engage in a conversation, it’s important to demonstrate active listening skills. Repeat what they’ve said to you to ensure you’ve understood, ask questions seeking to understand, and withhold all judgment and advice. Beforehand, it’s helpful to state that the information they share is safe with you and that you will be discrete and respectful with their story.
4. Validate Their Feelings and Experience
Victims frequently have opposing feelings about their relationship. They don’t wish to be hurt, but they carry love or admiration for the positive things in their relationship, too. Above all else, provide assurances that you believe them and that the violence is not their fault. Let them know that it’s normal to hold conflicting feelings, but that they don’t deserve to be treated poorly or hurt.
5. Devise a Safety Plan
If they’re open to it, offer your help to create a plan of safety in the event of future violence. Create specific steps that include:
- a coded phrase or word to share with friends and family in the event of violence
- a safe place to go if they need to leave their home
- an alibi or reason to leave if they are feeling unsafe
- a getaway bag with important documents, a change of clothes, emergency contacts, and toiletries
6. Offer Resources
There are several community resources available for domestic violence victims. From shelters and hotlines to legal aid, help them get any information that could prove useful in the future. If needed, look up local laws and statutes regarding child custody and protective orders, and locate a reputable domestic violence defense attorney to cover all your bases.
7. Respect Their Autonomy
There are many reasons why a victim of domestic abuse chooses to remain in an abusive relationship. The important thing for you to do to support them is to remain a lifeline for them without pressuring them or shaming them into leaving their relationship. It is ultimately their decision to stay in their relationship, but you can provide assistance by being stable support for them no matter what. A safe and caring friendship may be just the thing to help them when they need it most.