As a friend, family member or co-worker of someone who is being abused, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself to offer supportive and empowering assistance
- Learn about domestic violence – Read our website’s Learn about Abuse section, talk to a domestic violence advocate, read books, or visit other websites to learn more about domestic violence. Know what services are available. Read about the laws that can protect a victim of abuse in our Know the Laws section.
- Initiate a conversation in private and when you have enough time to talk at length, if s/he wants to.
- Let go of any expectations you have that there is a “quick fix” to domestic violence or to the obstacles an abused person faces. Understand that what may appear to you as him/her “not doing anything” may very well be the safest thing s/he can do at any given time.
- Challenge and change any false attitudes and beliefs that you may have about victims of domestic abuse. People who are abused aren’t abused because there is something wrong with them. The abuse often builds slowly and the abuser often methodically tears down the victim’s self-esteem, isolates him/her from family and friends, and makes it so the victim often feels trapped in the relationship by his/her partners’ use of violence and/or power and control. The better able you are to recognize and build on the courage, resourcefulness and decision-making abilities of victims of abuse, the better able you will be to help them.
What You Can Do for a Victim of Abuse
- Believe him/her. And let him/her know that you do. If you know his/her partner, remember that abusers most often act different in public than they do in private.
- Listen to what s/he tells you. Really listen to him/her and ask questions to make sure you understand what s/he is saying. Avoid making judgments and giving advice. You will most likely learn directly from him/her what it is s/he needs.
- Build on his/her strengths. Based on what s/he tells you and on what you have seen, point out the ways in which s/he has developed ways to cope, solved problems, and showed courage and determination. Even if the things s/he has tried have not been completely successful, help him/her to build on these strengths.
- Validate his/her feelings. It is common for someone who is abused by an intimate partner to have conflicting feelings – love and fear, guilt and anger, hope and sadness. Let him/her know that these feelings are normal.
- Avoid victim-blaming. Tell your loved one that the abuse is not his/her fault. Tell him/her that the abuse is his/her partner’s problem and responsibility, but don’t “bad-mouth” the abusive partner.
- Take it seriously. If you are concerned about your loved one’s safety, tell him/her you are concerned without judgment by simply saying something like, “Your situation sounds dangerous and I’m concerned about your safety.”
- Offer help. Offer specific forms of help and information. If s/he asks you to do something you’re willing and able to do, do it. If you can’t or don’t want to, say so and help him/her find other ways to have that need met. Then look for other ways that you can help.
- Be a partner in his/her safety planning efforts. The key to safety planning is taking a problem, looking at all of the available options, evaluating the risks and benefits of different options, and figuring out ways to reduce the risks. Offer ideas, resources and information. You can read about Safety Planning on our WomensLaw.org website.
- Support and respect his/her decisions. Remember that there are risks with every decision a victim of abuse makes. It can often be helpful to respect a his/her decisions and let the person know that you are there if s/he wants to reach out for support, even if you don’t agree with the decisions. Going against a victim’s wishes by doing something like reporting the abuse to the police if s/he asks you not to or informing other family members, friends, or co-workers about the situation against his/her wishes can often put the victim in greater danger from the abuser. In addition, if your loved one loses trust in you, s/he may not be willing to come to you in the future when s/he really needs the help.
Special thanks to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (NYS OPDV).