Shame and guilt, emotional abuse, cultural and religious tradition, and societal misconceptions contribute to an abuse victim’s silence. As a result, you might not realize that a person you love is experiencing abuse. However, with one in three women and one in four men experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime, abuse has probably directly affected someone close to you.
If a person you know is experiencing abuse, he or she might:
- Have unexplained marks or injuries
- Stop spending time with friends or family
- Appear depressed or anxious
- Have noticeable mood or personality changes
- Excuse their partner’s bad behavior
- Get publicly insulted by their partner
- Act submissive around their partner or fear their partner’s extreme jealousy
Supporting abuse victims is difficult. Because you care about this person, you might waver between wanting to “save” the victim from their relationship and trying to respect their “privacy.” Find a perfect balance by empowering victims to gradually take back control of their life in the following ways:
Before having a conversation with this person, learn more about the complex issues surrounding domestic violence. Help yourself navigate potentially difficult conversations by trying to understand what this person might be experiencing.
Start a conversation.
Find a private space to talk to this person. Acknowledge the challenging situation and express your love and support. Then, be patient. While you might expect a lot from this conversation, everyone needs time to process difficult discussions and begin opening up. Remember, you cannot force this person to ask for your help.
Offer unconditional support.
The choice to leave an abusive situation is just one step in a gradual process. While this person’s actions might frustrate you sometimes, you must not judge. Instead, respect the many reasons why a victim would choose to stay in or return to an abusive relationship. Support victims if they remain with their abuser. If a victim leaves an abuser, recognize that this person needs time to mourn the loss of the relationship or imagined future. Do not let this person feel alone in any part of the decision-making process. However, your safety is also important. You do not need to agree to spend time with the abuser, and it is okay to take necessary actions to protect yourself from danger.
Focus on small steps.
Many people focus on ending abusive relationships rather than empowering victims, but expecting victims to leave their abusers can make victims feed judged or pressured. Instead, encourage this person to make small steps:
- Invite this person to activities without the abuser. Many abusers use isolation to make a victim to feel alone. By building outside support networks, this person might feel more empowered to leave.
- Help this person design a safety plan. Making concrete plans to remain safe during violent periods and after they’ve left helps victims protect themselves in an emergency. Read HAWC’s safety tips to learn more.
- Offer moral support. Beginning to address an abusive relationship is overwhelming. If this person knows they have your support, they might be more likely to call HAWC’s hotline, visit the doctor, go to the police, or join a support group.
- Provide assistance with this person’s daily life. Abuse deeply affects a person’s life. This person might need help picking up children, applying to jobs, cleaning the house or caring for family, or traveling to different places. By offering specific favors, you make it easier to ask for help.
- Emphasize self-care. Everyone needs a friend who will make sure they drink water, eat food, get sleep, and take necessary medication when they are facing a challenging situation. Keeping up with these basic necessities really improves a person’s inner strength and self-worth.
Seeing someone you love get hurt is difficult. However, if the situation becomes too overwhelming or you find that you are not taking care of yourself, take a break. Lean on others and ask for advice without jeopardizing this person’s confidentiality. You must take care of yourself in order to take care of others.