Friends & Family
Friends and family members may be the first people to recognize that someone they care about is in an abusive relationship. The first step to helping them is to learn more about abuse. This includes assessing for safety risks. Are You Safe? Because every situation is unique and the safety risks vary, we recommend you speak with a trained JBWS helpline staff member or counselor before approaching a victim or the abusive partner.
When you are ready to talk to someone about the abuse, use these general guidelines to:
Saying "I'm concerned about you" is a good way to open the conversation. It helps her* to let down her defenses and see that you are not judging or blaming her. Instead, you are just showing concern.
Share specific observations like, "I've noticed that you seem jittery around Carl," or "I've noticed that Carl doesn't want you to spend time with your friends anymore," or "I've noticed that Carl constantly calls to check-up on you and that he puts you down a lot." Help her to see the possible pattern of controlling behavior.
No one deserves to be abused.
Whether or not she is ready to reveal the abuse in her relationship, you can provide her with basic information. You could begin by saying, "I recently read a little about abuse and I learned that many women have experienced abuse in their relationships." You can describe abuse as a pattern of behavior used to gain control over another and can be expressed as emotional or physical abuse. Emphasize that the abuse is not provoked and responsibility for this inappropriate and unacceptable behavior lies with the abuser.
Let her know that you respect her need for privacy and confidentiality. The decision to stay with a partner or to seek help is hers. Tell her that whatever she decides to do, you will respect her decision and be there to support her.
Empathize with her.
Don't judge her, instead empathize with the complexity of feelings that you have in intimate relationships. Acknowledge the good parts of the relationship as well as the unhealthy behaviors. Share your knowledge of early warning signs of potential abuse.
"R" you safe?
Safety should be a critical concern in all cases of domestic abuse. If she reveals a pattern of abuse or you've witnessed physical abuse in her relationship, be prepared to express your concerns about her safety. Let her know that what may start as emotional abuse can escalate to intimidation, threats and even physical abuse. Your local domestic abuse helpline workers can assist you with a specific safety planning.
Name the problem.
Naming the victim a "battered woman" before she is ready to believe it may only make her defensive. When the time is right, however, naming the problem as "a pattern of abuse" may help the victim to see why no matter what she tries, the abuse continues. Naming the problem may help to reduce her feelings of isolation and hopelessness and can help direct her to the most appropriate referrals.
Lastly, refer the victims to appropriate resources by giving them the phone number of the local domestic abuse programs for counseling, shelter, legal remedies and more.
*If you are speaking with a male victim of abuse, please substitute male pronouns.