"Why isn't that effective?" you might ask. "They're in danger and their abuser's evil. They need to leave." That is often true, but think back to how a victim often perceives their abuser- someone who does bad things, but truly needs and loves the victim in spite of all that. When you tell a victim to just leave, it can sound a little bit like you don't understand what's going on and are insensitive to the needs of the victim and their abuser.
"Okay," I can hear you saying, "if you're so smart, what are better ways to keep my friend safe?" Well, I'm glad you asked! Here are some tips and suggestions for how to support someone who's being abused.
Criticize behaviours, not the person. Instead of calling someone's abuser a jerk or an asshole, consider discussing particular behaviours that concern you. Telling your friend that it worries you when their partner won't let them go out with friends, or that you're scared for their safety because the abuser says threatening things, is going to go a lot farther with your friend than straight-up insults. Remember that your friend loves their abuser to a certain extent, and also bear in mind that the abuser might've been spreading rumours about you to your friend.
Reassure your friend that you believe them. A common tactic of abusers is to tell their victims that no one will believe them if they seek help. If you can reassure your friend that you believe their story, that's a great first step to breaking the cycle of abuse.
On the same lines, reassure your friend that the abuse isn't their fault. Many abusers blame their victims for the abuse, and over time that becomes difficult for victims to disbelieve. Helping them to gain perspective on who's to blame for abuse is another good step in helping them break the cycle of abuse.
Listen to them. Remember that, as dangerous a situation as your friend might be in, they might not be ready to leave. This can be extremely difficult to deal with as a friend of a victim, but it's a reality that you need to be prepared to handle. Don't stop making sure your friend has access to hotline numbers, but don't put undue pressure on them to leave if they're really not ready.
Get informed! Over the past month we've offered you some information about abuse and the legal and social organizations that deal with it, but there's always more information out there. We can't encourage you enough to check out the website for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
A few don'ts:
- Don't deal with the abusers directly, if at all possible. It might feel gratifying to yell at the abuser, threaten them, or tell them you know what they're up to. But it's a really bad idea! Not only does it put you in danger, but it also increases the likelihood that the abuser will use your behaviour as an excuse to hurt your friend even more.
- Don't offer to let your friend stay with you unless you can be sure that the abuser won't come looking for them there. The last thing you need is an angry, dangerous person showing up at your home, looking for your friend. A better idea? Offer to help your friend get to a shelter or a safe drop-off point.
- Don't become your friend's advocate. By "advocate," I mean the person who assists them in navigating the legal and social barriers to safety. If you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, they can connect you (and your friend!) to local advocacy services that will guide your friend through the legal system. Not only does this mean that your friend is working with people with a lot of experience in this area, but it also means that you can take a step back and do what you're good at- being a good, supportive friend.
As always, if you are experiencing intimate partner abuse or know someone who is, please contact your state's Coalition Against Domestic Violence or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) for information, referrals, and safety-planning. To keep yourself safe, always remember to clear your browser history and, if using a cell phone, your call history.