What Can You Do If You Suspect Someone You Know Is Being Abused?
Most people remain silent about the issue of domestic violence. Very few people identify themselves as abusers or victims. Victims may be silent about the abuse because of embarrassment or shame, or for fear that their batterers will hurt them if they tell other people about the violence. Abusers often minimize their actions or blame the victim for provoking the violence. Both victims and abusers may characterize their experiences as family quarrels that “got out of control.”
All of us are bystanders and witnesses to different forms of abuse, and it can be extremely challenging to learn how to help those we suspect are being abused. We do not want to create even more conflict or provoke the abuser. Speaking up on behalf of someone we see being hurt is not always the safest or smartest thing to do. And sometimes the person being abused is not ready to disclose what is happening to them or to draw attention to their situation.
If someone declines to discuss domestic violence issues, consider whether the silence may be due to a fear of the batterer or to cultural, racial, or gender issues which make it difficult to talk about such personal experiences.
A person wanting to help a victim of abuse is best able to do so after first familiarizing her/himself with the challenges posed by the problem. These include emotional, safety, legal, economic, and social challenges faced by the victim. Awareness of safety issues is critical. This web site and its links can be a helpful starting point.
However, there are some things that you can do to help...
- Talk to the person you think is being abused, but only when her partner is not around. Approach her in a non-blaming, non-judgmental, and understanding way. Tell her she is not alone and that there are many women like her in similar situations.
- Say things like “I am worried about you and your safety” or “I’m concerned about the safety of your children.” If the person does not respond or minimizes your concern, respect it in the moment. But try again a few days or weeks later.
- Offer to be helpful. Ask what would be helpful to them. A victim/survivor is in the best position to judge her needs especially from a safety standpoint. Her decisions should be her own.
- Offer to listen.
- Use supportive language.
- Don’t say bad things about the abusive person. Don’t lament that she got involved with this person. This “blames the victim.”
- Don’t say, “I would leave the relationship if I was in your situation.”
- Remind the person that they deserve to be happy and healthy in their relationship.
- Remind the person that no one should treat them in a hurtful manner, and they deserve to be treated well. Tell them domestic violence is a crime.
- Use your local resources. Contact your local domestic violence agency for help in dealing with the situation.
- Provide the person with resource information like the number of a domestic violence hotline or agency.
- Be patient. Allow her to make her own decisions. You may want the person to leave the relationship, but it has to be her decision. She might not leave right away. (See Why Victims Stay).
- Stay in her life by being supportive and by creating a safe space for her to talk about her situation.
This page is geared toward women because the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated against women. However, it is important to emphasize that violence happens to others as well—and—is equally unacceptable.