Supporting someone you care about who is experiencing domestic abuse
If you know, or have reason to believe, that a friend, relative or work colleague is experiencing domestic violence, it's a very difficult thing to have to deal with. It is very upsetting to think that someone you care about is being hurt and abused. Your instinct might be to protect them by intervening somehow but this could be dangerous for both you, her and her children. This does not mean that there is nothing you can do however. There are lots of ways you can support the person you care about and her children.
Sometimes support means providing information on how to reach out for professional support, finding safety or report the abuse to the authorities. But often listening is the best form of support.
It is inevitable that you too will have many difficult emotions about the abuse. You may, for example, feel powerless, angry and frustrated that you cannot do more to prevent it. Such feelings are perfectly normal and centres such as The Women's Centre Cornwall will listen to you, as well as the survivor of the abuse, and offer practical help and assurance.
Here are some pointers on how you can best support someone you care about who is experiencing abuse:
Encourage her to open up
Talk to and help her to open up. Try to be direct and start by saying something like, "I'm concerned about you ..." or "I'm worried about your safety.
You may have to try several times before she will confide in you or before she will recognise that she is being abused. It will take even longer for her to make decisions to do something permanent and lasting about changing her situation. Recognising that there is a problem is often the first and most important step.
Listen to her
Let her know that you are there if she needs to talk. Just listening can be the key to helping her through this difficult experience. Never force her to talk when she is not willing to. Do not try to offer advice: just listen to her and follow her lead. Knowing that you are there if she needs you is very important.
Many women have been made to feel the abuse is their fault and that, by changing their behaviour, the abuse will stop but research shows that this is not the case. Let the woman you are supporting know that she is not to blame for the abuse she is experiencing. She is not the one at fault. It is the perpetrator of the abuse that should be blamed.
It is vitally important that you show the woman you are supporting that you care for her and that you believe what she is telling you. Too often people do not believe women who disclose abuse.
Don't judge her
Don't tell the woman you are supporting to leave or criticise her for staying. Although you might think that leaving is the best thing for her to do, she has to make that decision for herself. There are many reasons that women find it difficult to leave their partners and it is important to remember that an abused woman is most at risk at the point of separation and immediately after her leaving an abusive relationship.
Give her back some control
When someone is being being abused, the perpetrator has all the control and the victim feels powerless. The woman you are supporting will need to feel that she has control over her life again. You can begin to help her achieve this by letting her make the decisions. Give her options about what she can do but let the final decision be hers. Do not force her to do anything she is unsure of or does not want to do.
Encourage her to speak to a specialist agency
Encourage the woman you are supporting to speak to a specialist domestic violence agency who will understand what she is going through and will be able to offer trained, specialist support and advice.
Help her to stay safe
Talk to the woman you are supporting about what she can do to keep her and her children safe. Don't make plans for her yourself, but encourage her to think more closely about the issue. You can offer to hold a spare set of keys or important documents that will enable her to access them in an emergency; agree a code word that she can tell you to signal she's in danger when she cannot access help herself or tell her about making a Silent 999 call which will alert the emergency services that she is in difficulty.
Try to support her in the decisions she makes but be as clear as possible about what you can or cannot do.
Focus on building her self confidence. Acknowledge her strengths and frequently remind her how well she is coping in very difficult circumstances. This can help to build her fragile self-esteem.
Women who are being abused by their partners will often be socially isolated so encourage her to maintain or develop her contacts outside the home.
You too are being faced with a difficult experience. Find ways of getting support for yourself, whether through counselling/support, taking "time out" or (with her permission) talking to a friend.
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