If you suspect that someone you know is in an abusive relationship it can be difficult how to help. You may feel that it’s none of your business, or worry about upsetting the person. But, abuse thrives on silence so starting the conversation is really important.
You may find that the person you are worried about doesn’t realise that something is wrong with their relationship; they may be defensive or worried about opening up to someone in case they are being judged. The best thing you can do is to make the person feel supported and encouraged rather than judged or ciriticised. Rather than asking outright you may want to try some of these conversation starters:
- We haven’t seen much of you recently, is everything ok?
- I’ve noticed you seem a bit down, has anyone upset you?
- Wow, they text you a lot, do they do that all the time?
- I’m worried about you…I saw the way they looked at you and you seemed scared
Once you do know that someone is in an abusive relationship it can be tempting to focus your efforts on urging someone to leave as soon as possible. But although you can make them aware of the options and support available you must remember it may not be that easy. It’s important that they feel that they are not being blamed for not leaving. There is support available, even if the person is not yet ready to leave the relationship.
Support groups can offer advice on how to keep themselves safe, and the type of practical and financial help that is available.
Just starting the conversation is important. And be prepared to keep asking. The person may not want to open up to you straight away.
Understand that there is no ‘quick fix’. It can take a long time for someone to realise that what is happening to them is wrong and even longer for them to make the decision to leave. There can be many factors for people affecting the decision to leave, from children to financial concerns and a real fear of what might happen to them if they do leave.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t criticise or blame – this can stop the person talking, and they may feel they can’t bring it up at a later date
- Don’t try to ‘rescue’ the victim or challenge the abuser. The person suffering the abuse needs to remain in control of the decision to leave
- Don’t think you need all the answers, just listening will help to break the silence around the situation
- Do encourage them to pack an emergency bag, or at least keep important items and documents (such as passports/birth certificates), money and car keys in one place so that they can leave quickly if they need to
- Do agree a code word/sign so that they can signal to you if they are in danger, or need help
- Do contact support organisations or helplines on the person’s behalf or let them use your PC or phone to make contact themselves. You can find a list here