For Parents & Friends: How You Can Help
Friends and family find that it is extremely difficult to witness a friend or loved one experience emotional, physical or other kinds of abuse. In addition, survivors often become trapped in a pattern of repeatedly leaving and returning to the abuser--often leading to alienation and burnout on the part of those who care for her.
It can help to familiarize yourselves with the cycle of violence in abusive relationships. It may also help to understand that:
- Abusive relationships don't “just work themselves out;”
- Your support and encouragement of the victim is critical;
- You can ease the isolation and loss of control she/he may feel by just listening without judgment;
- Be patient; change can be slow.
Warning Signs of Intimate Partner Violence
- Your friend/loved one's partner uses an unusual amount of control over her activities, family finances, the way she dresses, and/or her contact with family and friends.
- Your friend/loved one has unexplained bruises or frequent "accidents," which cause her to miss school or work, or give inconsistent explanations.
- Your friend/loved one's partner makes fun of her or puts her down in public.
- Your friend/loved one appears frightened, exhausted, or on edge.
- Your friend/loved one's children seem easily upset or are experiencing sudden problems in school.
How You Can Help
- Listen without judgment. Ask about her situation and let her know that you really want to listen, then give her plenty of time to talk. Let her know that you are concerned about her safety, that she doesn't deserve to be treated this way, and that abuse is never acceptable. Support the choices she makes for herself, even if her choice is to stay in the relationship.
- Remind her of her strengths. By helping her recognize her skills, abilities and strengths, you will help her see her other options. Point out the strength she has shown by surviving her current situation.
- Help her learn more about intimate partner violence. Help her by learning the facts about abuse. Refer her to this website. Help her to brainstorm about other sources of help.
- Inform your friend that intimate partner violence has serious consequences for victims.
- Show concern. Say, "I'm worried about you" rather than "Why don't you leave" or "I wouldn't put up with that."
- Provide your loved one with information about local resources. Share the community resources listed in this web site. Let her know she can call if she decides she wants help.
- Take the abuse seriously. It rarely occurs once and usually gets worse over time. Abuse results in more injuries than rapes, auto accidents, and muggings combined.
- Keep in touch. The abuser may try to isolate your friend or loved one. By letting her know you care and are available to her, you provide her with a connection to the world and options for safety.
- Use the guide on this website to develop a safety plan.
If The Survivor Doesn’t Think She Can Leave
Leaving an abusive situation is difficult for many reasons. Your friend or loved one may not be ready to leave, or may even return to the abuser. Survivors leave their relationship an average of 7-11 times before ending it permanently. It is important for you to support her through the entire process, though you may be frustrated, worried, and want her to get out of the situation right now.
Five things to say to a survivor when she says she can't break it off:
- I am here for you and will support you, no matter what.
- I am afraid for your safety.
- I am afraid for the safety of your roommates/friends/children.
- It will only get worse. He has no reason to change if you stay.
- You don't deserve to be abused.
Remember that she knows what is best for her. She has been living with this situation and must determine the risk. It is often most dangerous for a woman when she attempts to end the relationship or has left the abuser. She must plan for her safety carefully, and it may take a great deal of time and several attempts for her to actually leave. Support her in making her own decisions.
* Thanks to the UVA Women's Place for permission to use this material.