Info for Friends & Family
Nothing can be more devastating than hearing the story of someone close to you being abused or suspecting that they may be. Your first feelings may be of fear, anger, sadness, grief, shock, disbelief or others but your response to this disclosure is extremely important as it can impact how the victim/survivor will move forward with trying to get help or get out.
Here is a list of things to consider should a victim/survivor inform you that they are being abused. Although you will see the term victim/survivor and batterer/abuser throughout, please be aware that they may not see themselves as a victim/survivor or view their partner as a batterer/abuser.
This is one of the most important and difficult things to do. Remember that they are confiding something in you that they may be terrified, deeply ashamed or incredibly sad to tell you. It is likely that they have kept it a secret from those they most wanted to tell for some time. Find a quiet place where you can talk safely and without interruption. Encourage them to talk about the abuse. Restrain yourself from interjecting your thoughts or opinions, let them tell their story.
If you suspect domestic violence is occurring but don’t know for sure, ask how the relationship is going. Ask about any disagreements and tension that you observe in the relationship. You can ask specific questions like, “Has s/he ever pushed or shoved you?” or “Has s/he ever called you or your children names?”
Domestic violence has serious and dangerous physical and emotional effects on everyone living in the household, including the children and pets. Educate yourself on the effects of domestic violence on all involved so that you can share them with the victim/survivor in a non-judgmental way that lets them know that you are concerned. Information can be a powerful motivator to help them recognize and mobilize against future violence.
Do not deny any aspect of their story. Do not judge them. Show them that you support them no matter what they decide to do about their relationship, whether it is staying with or leaving the abusive partner on a temporary or permanent basis or not doing anything about it. And that you will always be there for them. They need to feel connected to something outside of the abusive relationship to hold on to, you may be all they have.
Show your friend or loved one that you respect their ability to best know their abuser and situation. Victim/survivors are the “experts” on their relationships and are generally aware of the patterns of abuse/violence that occur in the relationship and the batterer’s behavior. Trust their ability to gauge when they are safest and respect their choices about when certain steps can or cannot be taken.Showing respect, without judgment, lets the victim/survivor feel they are competent to dictate their own destiny can encourage them to build the confidence necessary to seek a path of safety and freedom.
It is likely that their abuser has constantly insulted, minimized and disregarded the victm/survivors feelings or even their right to have feelings at all. To ignore or minimize their feelings or experience or to sweep it under the rug will only serve to further isolate them. This may be highly dangerous and destructive.
Give positive feedback. Physically abusive relationships are also emotionally abusive and all types of abuse lower the victim/survivor’s self esteem. Some victims stay in the relationship because they believe that they are to blame for the abuse or do not see the possibility of a nonviolent relationship. They may also have fears of making it on their own. Remind them of their strengths and abilities and their importance to you.
Do not criticize the batterer. Saying critical things about the batterer also implies criticism of the victim/survivor for having “chosen” a batterer as their partner. Also, one of the ways that many abusers isolate their victims is by telling them that their friends and family don’t like the abuser and want to break up the relationship. Criticisms of the abuser may convince them that the abuser is, in fact, telling the truth about this. Keep in mind that they may also see the positive qualities in their abusive partner and continue to love them, despite the abuse. They love their partner, it's the abuse they hate. Criticizing the abuser can cause distance in your relationship making them less likely to come to you for support in the future.
As difficult as it is, it is absolutely essential that you not try to put their story into the context of your life, your relationship or what you know and then attempt to advise them based on that. Rather, help guide their thoughts and discussion to empower them to reach their own decisions about what to do and when to do it. Help them identify their options and outcomes that may follow.
Don’t make choices for them. One aspect of abusive relationships is that the batterer limits the victim’s ability to make choices. Try not to repeat this behavior by giving them ultimatums or orders. Issuing ultimatums or orders may lessen their ability to confide in you and get your support.
This is THE MOST important thing to say and repeat often. Blame & shame are the #1 tactics an abuser uses to intimidate and trap their victim. It is also how they justify their behavior. Let the victim/survivor know that they are absolutely in no way, shape or form responsible for the abuse. No one has the right or justification to abuse another.
Encourage the victim/survivor to develop a safety plan which can help them to make important plans and decisions about their safety. Safety plans may include the “what” and “how” a victim/survivor will respond if violence is imminent. Safety planning is an ongoing process that changes and evolves as they make difficult decisions about the relationship. Refer them to our hotline, 937-498-7261, tell them you’ll accompany them to speak with us, or, if you’re in a safe place, call us to meet you and the victim/survivor where you are. If they refuse our services, talk to them about our shelter and other safe places with neighbors, friends or family that may be available to them.
Part of any safety plan is encouraging the victim/survivor to start a log or journal. This may help the victim/survivor to realize the frequency, severity, and duration of the abuse they have experienced and can be a helpful source of information later. You may also want to keep a log of your own that can include information about the violent events or others who saw or heard the event, pictures, and information about injuries to the victim or property.
Persuade them not to ignore the problem or think that it will get better or go away. Abuse almost always escalates over time and threatens the wellbeing and life of every person and creature living in an abusive home. Try to encourage them to call us, at the very least to set up a safety plan and discuss how we can help them all along their process.
Recognize their efforts. Realize that the victim/survivor is doing something every day to try to improve their situation. Victim/survivors try many things to stop or mitigate the violence in their lives. These may include talking with the abuser, calling the police, or contacting a mental health professional or clergy member. Recognize that although you might like to see them make different choices, they are trying to improve their situation in ways that they are comfortable with. Change often occurs in small steps that eventually lead to large gains.
Abusers isolate their victims from family and friends for many reasons, not the least of which are to limit who can see the results of the abuse but also so that the victim feels they have no one to turn to and remains hopeless. Although you may feel that the victim/survivor is pushing you away, try to keep in contact with your friend or loved one as safely as possible to ensure that they maintain a link to the outside world and are reminded that they are not alone. This can be a heartbreaking situation for friends and loved ones of someone who is being abused, if you need support, please contact us.
The abuser may view you as a threat to their relationship or a conspirator in promoting or helping their partner to leave them. This may put you in a dangerous position, along with the victim. Call us to prepare for your own safety when attempting to assist a victim/survivor. Often we are called to difficult or dangerous situations to help someone: car accident, fire – this is no different, don’t let it stop you from helping.
This is not only dangerous to you but is extremely dangerous to the victim/survivor. Abuse is an ugly secret, abusers don’t want/like to be known as such. Sudden revelation that you know may put you and the victim/survivor at risk. Exposure of this “secret” not only threatens the abusers sense of “privilege” and ”power” to abuse in the privacy of their own home but also makes them feel threatened with criminal action, breaking up of the relationship (loss of control) or fearful, which may very well result in a dangerous situation for the abused partner.
Call the police if you witness or hear a violent episode, DO NOT try to intervene physically as this may result in injuries to you or others. Call 911 immediately. When the police arrive, cooperate, ask to fill out a statement, and prepare yourself to testify in court. Often the victim/survivor cannot cooperate with the police or follow through to take necessary legal steps due to her fear of the abuser.
Expand your own support system so that you can share your feelings and frustrations with others.Call us to get advice or if you’re just not sure what to do next. Assisting a victim/survivor of domestic violence can be a very traumatic and emotionally draining experience, however, they desperately need you to stay in touch with them and remain open to them. Therefore, it’s important that you get the mental health or support/support group assistance to give you the stamina to continue to be a resource for them.
For more help, advice or assistance, call us at 937-498-7261.
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