Helping a Friend Who May be a Victim of Abuse
Sometimes your own feelings about violence may make it difficult for you to confront the situation. Gather all the information you can to learn about domestic violence. Contact programs and services in your area that assist battered individuals and their children. These programs not only offer people safety, but also provide advocacy, support, and other needed services. Contact your local domestic violence hotline or program and talk to staff about your concerns. Domestic violence advocates can be an excellent source of support for both you and your friend.
Lend a Sympathetic Ear
Letting your friend know that you care and are willing to listen may be the best help you can offer. Don’t force the issue, but allow your friend to come to you to talk when your friend is ready to confide in you. Keep your mind open and really listen to what your friend tells you. Never blame your friend for what’s happening or underestimate your friend's fear of potential danger. Remember that your friend must make his/her own decisions about his/her life. Focus on supporting your friend's right to make his/her own choices.
Guide Your Friend to Community Services
When your friend asks for advice on what to do, share the information you’ve gathered privately. Let your friend know that s/he is not alone and that caring people are available to help. Encourage him/her to seek the assistance of domestic violence advocates at the local domestic violence hotline or program. Assure your friend that any information s/he shares with them will be kept strictly confidential. Many people who have been abused first seek the advice of marriage counselors, psychiatrists, or members of the clergy. Although many of these "helping professionals" may be able to give your friend good advice, it is also important to remember that many helping professionals are not specially trained to deal with domestic violence issues. If you think that your friend's clergy person, marriage counselor, psychiatrist, or other advisor is not specifically trained to deal with domestic violence issues, encourage your friend to contact a domestic violence hotline or service provider in the area.
Focus on Your Friend's Strengths
Many abused people live with emotional as well as physical abuse. Your friend may be continually told by the abuser that s/he is a bad person, called names, or other negative things. Without positive reinforcement from outside of the home, s/he may begin to believe s/he can’t do anything right-that there really is something wrong with him/her.
Give the emotional support s/he needs to believe that s/he is a good person. Help your friend examine his/her strengths and skills. Emphasize that s/he deserves a life that is free from violence.
Be a Friend in Deed
Tell your friend you’re there when s/he needs you. Provide whatever you can: transportation, child care, financial assistance, or anything else that could help your friend stay safe.
Confront Your Friend with the Danger
At some point, you may find it difficult to be supportive of your friend if s/he remains in the violent relationship or returns to the abuser after a temporary separation. Let your friend know that not everyone lives with abuse. Be willing to confront your friend with the physical and emotional harm that s/he and his/her children will suffer if s/he stays. Help your friend face up to the dangerous reality of living with an abusive partner. Remind your friend that even a push or a shove can result in serious injury.
Help your friend develop a Safety Plan
Encourage your friend to develop a plan to protect herself or himself and his/her children. Help your friend think through the steps to take if your friend's abuser becomes violent again. Make a list of people s/he can call in an emergency.
Suggest that your friend put together and hide a suitcase of clothing, personal items, money, social security cards, bank books, the children’s birth certificates and school records, and other important documents. Offer to keep this suitcase at your home if you are able to do so.
Offer to Take Care of Your Friend's Pet
Often, abused persons delay leaving their homes because of concern for their pets. If you can take care of your friend's pet while s/he is away, that will help him or her to leave sooner and will also keep the pet safe from the abuser.
If Your Friend Decides to Leave
The first safe place your friend should contact is the local domestic violence hotline or domestic violence shelter. Shelter workers can help your friend examine his/her options. If your friend decides to leave, a shelter may be the safest place to go. The sad truth, however, is that not all communities have shelters or safe homes. Sometimes shelters don’t have enough room for all the people who need their help. Your friend may need to rely on family or friends for temporary housing.
Be careful when offering and providing safety in your home. Abused people frequently face the most physical danger in the attempt to leave. Be very discreet and talk to domestic violence program staff about the best way to handle this.
When to Intervene
It cannot be overemphasized that domestic violence is a crime that can result in serious injury and even death. If you know or have reasonable suspicion that a battering incident is occurring, call the police immediately.