How can you help?

“In the end what will hurt most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King

Through helping your loved one find safety, offering practical support and with encouragement, friends and family can play a vital role in helping decrease the isolation of abuse.

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, say it out loud! Deciding to get involved is not easy, you may doubt your instincts and observations, you may think it’s none of your business or hope someone else will get involved instead of you or perhaps you feel that their problem will “work itself out”. Not so, domestic violence doesn‘t usually end unless action is taken to stop it and maybe you are someone that could help. Of course it can be hard to know what to do.

People are often reluctant to discuss something so intimate, and they‘re afraid of intruding and afraid of ‘getting it wrong’. Domestic and family violence is not just a private problem – it is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, any children involved and the entire community.

For most of us, a decision to end a relationship is not easy; leaving a violent relationship is even harder. The person being abused will most likely have emotional ties to their abuser and despite the abuse they may love that person, living in hope that the violence will end. They may also be financially dependent on their abuser, they may have children and/or pets together that they are afraid of losing or that person may have been told so many times that they deserve the abuse that they actually believe it. All of these are major hurdles that your friend/family/community member may have to face when trying to leave a violent relationship.

The warning signs:

Understanding the warning signs can help you see a relationship for what it actually is. You may even notice them before your friend does.

If you suspect your friend is a victim

The person may:

  • seem intimidated or anxious around their partner/family member or when this person contacts them
  • seem withdrawn in general or reluctant to speak about their relationship
  • be overly anxious to please their partner/family member
  • say their partner/family member follows them, or constantly rings or texts them wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. Or you may notice that when they are not with their partner they are constantly getting calls and messages
  • be regularly criticised or verbally put down by their partner/family member
  • say their partner/family member questions their sexuality and/or their gender
  • say their partner is jealous and possessive and accuses them of having affairs with other people
  • repeatedly have bruises or other injuries with explanations that don’t seem to fit the injury
  • increasingly stop seeing or speaking with you and other friends and family
  • say their partner/family member controls the money or their medications (for example restricting their HIV or gender transition medications, not giving them access to money, making them account for every cent that is spent)
  • have children who seem frightened or too well behaved in the partner’s presence
  • Make excuses for their partner or family member’s abusive behaviour

Some points to help:

  • Be patient – It’s hard for others to tell you things they’re ashamed of. Few people will tell you the whole story straight away. Tell the person that you’re there, whenever they feel ready to talk.
  • Point out the things you’ve noticed that make you worried. Sometimes the person being abused isn’t aware of how widespread the abuse is.
  • Listen to them without judging
  • Let them make their own decisions (they don’t need to be controlled by you as well)
  • Be willing to contact the police if you think that safety is a serious issue.
  • Offer them a safe place to stay
  • Help them write a safety plan
  • Reassure the person that you’ll keep whatever is said between the two of you and keep their trust
  • Don’t tell the abuser that you spoke to them about their relationship at all
  • Find appropriate support services and offer to take them there/call them with them
  • Remember that people may stay in a relationship with someone who abuses them for reasons not known to you. Try not to judge them or expect them to act in ways you would like them to.

If you suspect your friend is abusing

The person may:

  • easily get jealous of their partner for no good reason
  • call or message their partner/family member excessively wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with.
  • get defensive when their relationship is spoken about
  • question their partner/family member’s gender/sexuality
  • tell you that their partner/family member is ‘crazy’, overeacts and is easily hurt
  • put their partner/family member down, insult or humiliate them
  • tell their partner/family member what to do, how to act or what to say and wear

Some points to help:

  • You can start by saying: “I feel uncomfortable when I see/hear you say X. It’s not OK.” You can also try appealing to their empathy with stuff like, “How do you think they (their partner) are feeling right now?”
  • Make sure you tell them that this is your observation and not anything that their partner said or did, the last thing you want is to increase the abuse for the victim. Especially don’t tell the abuser that the abused has said anything or is acting strange – this could just lead to the abused getting even more blame.
  • If you see them doing or saying something abusive, interrupt, tell them it’s not OK to do what it is that that they are doing, or pull them aside shortly after and say it then.
  • Be aware that abusers will minimise, justify or deny the use of violence and blame the other person or other external stressors such as work or their childhood. If they’re regretful or embarrassed, they may already realise their behaviour isn’t right, and you can start talking about getting some help (link to services).
  • Be wary that violence, abuse and intimidation may be their ‘go-to’ way of getting what they want or expressing what they really feel (e.g. embarrassed or ashamed).
  • Let them know that there are no excuses for being abusive.

What you can do

Timing is important. Bring up the subject as soon as possible, but at a time and place when it is safe to do so and they are calm and can talk privately. If you can’t talk straight away, ask if you can catch up later just the two of you. When someone is in an abusive relationship there may be feelings of shame, confusion and denial so they may get defensive, angry, go silent or change the topic and tell you that you’re wrong and everything is OK. They may make up excuses for their partner’s behaviour, minimise the abuse or take responsibility for the abuse. Don’t be discouraged – if your gut’s telling you something’s not right you may need to just keep the conversation going until the truth starts to come out, but don’t pressure them too much or interrogate them, they may take some time and come back to you at another date to talk about it.

How to take care of yourself

You’ll be of better assistance when you are feeling good. Although it may be important to step in, make sure that you take care of your own health, safety and emotional well-being.

Remember that you can’t force someone to change, you can only do your part. It may take days, weeks, months or years for an abusive relationship to end, if it ends at all. Try to be patient and understanding and don’t take on the responsibility for the outcome.

Remember that it is not your fault if the abuse continues. People choose to be abusive, the abuser has chosen their actions and it is not your fault.

Speak to a professional. Try calling any of the services listed on this website. Alternatively, any professional counsellor can help.

Stay healthy and regularly do things that you enjoy – both are proven stress relievers!

And of course stay safe! You do not want to fall victim to the abuser as well.