I’m worried about someone else
If you think someone you know is experiencing abuse, taking the time to learn about abuse and how to support someone are two important steps in helping your loved one reach safety and freedom.
If someone confides in you that they are experiencing domestic abuse there are some simple things you can do to support them. However, if the person you are worried about has not directly disclosed the abuse to you, it can be more difficult to support them but it’s good to understand how you can be there for them.
When supporting someone experiencing abuse, never put yourself in danger.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviours which take place within an intimate or family relationship, making it difficult for the person experiencing abuse to have control over their own life or leave the relationship. These behaviours can be controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading or violent.
Your friend or family member may be unsure if they are experiencing domestic abuse. If it is safe to do so, you could share types of abuse with them to help them come to terms with what they are experiencing. Try to keep in mind that they might not be ready to accept that their partner or relative is abusive yet.
Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
- Psychological and/or emotional abuse 
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Financial or economic abuse
- Harassment and stalking
- Online or digital abuse
It’s important to understand that abuse is always underpinned by a pattern of power and control. Coercive control is a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, creating a context of fear and control that makes it very hard for women to end the relationship. Coercive and controlling behaviour has been a criminal offence since 2015.
 Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2018) Domestic abuse: findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Published online: ONS
How you can support someone experiencing domestic abuse
It takes a lot of strength to talk about experiencing abuse, especially when many women are disbelieved or dismissed when they share their experience.
When someone reaches out to you, acknowledge that, although she is in a frightening and difficult situation, she is taking an important and brave step forward in reaching out to you.
For friends and family, it can be really challenging supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse but the most important thing you can do for them is to provide emotional support. Listen to them and believe them. Let them express their feelings to you and give them time and space to come to terms with the abuse.
Try to keep in mind that domestic abuse is about one person trying to control another – the perpetrator will likely have taken away a lot of the control from them, so try not to do the same. Instead of taking the situation out of their hands or making decisions for them, let them know that there is support available for them if and when they choose to reach out. They may decide that it is not the right time to get support or leave. This is okay, it’s important not to force this or judge them for making this decision. Let her set her own boundaries of what she feels is and isn’t safe, and always remember that she is the expert in her own experiences. However, if you have reason to believe that someone is in immediate danger, then you can call the police, or encourage them to call the police if they are able to do so.
When she is sharing her experiences, really listen to her, try to understand and don’t blame her. Let her know that she is not alone, and direct her to support services, like the Women’s Aid Live Chat. The support workers can help her come to terms with the abuse and talk her through her options.
When she contacts us, we promise we will never judge, we will always have a fully trained female support worker available, we will give space to explore her options and support her to make choices for her and her children and keep everything confidential. Women’s Aid is here for her.
She may have suffered physical abuse as well as emotional abuse. If she shares this information with you, you could offer to go to the GP or hospital with her. If she feels comfortable doing so, you can help her report assault(/s) to the police.
The abuser may have told her that she deserves the abuse. Let her know that this is not true, no one deserves to be threatened or hurt. There is no justification for the abuser’s behavior, the abuser is the only one responsible for their actions.
Use supportive language
It can be hard to hear your loved one talk about what she is going through but it’s important that your feelings don’t become judgmental words.
Judgmental language around domestic abuse can perpetuate dangerous stereotypes. It can make it more difficult for women to understand the abuse they are experiencing, come to terms with it, and reach out for professional support.
Instead of ‘If I were you, I’d leave’, try showing that you understand the many barriers she is facing, from financial to emotional, saying, ‘I understand there are barriers to you leaving’. Leaving is a huge decision, which could lead to further abuse, and it’s important she makes her own decisions when she feels ready.
It’s also important to be an empowering voice and not blame her for the abuse. Instead of ‘What did you do to provoke him?’, try ‘You don’t deserve this, no matter what’ or instead of ‘That sounds unlike him’, try ‘Your feelings are valid and I believe you.’
When you’re supporting someone, your words are powerful. It’s vital that survivors get the right response when they reach out to you.
Remember to look after yourself while you are supporting someone through a difficult and emotional time. Don’t put yourself in any dangerous situations, you shouldn’t offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or put yourself in any situations where you could be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship. If the abuser knows that your friend or family member is reaching out for help, or if you confront them about the abuse, this may escalate the abuse.
Supporting survivors – your questions answered
If your friend is experiencing abuse, it’s likely that the abuser will try to isolate her from friends and family so it’s important that you let her know that you are always there for her and keep communicating with her if it is possible and safe to do so. If she openly talks about the abuse with you, this is a positive sign. Make sure you are able to direct her to professional support services, like Women’s Aid, where she will be supported to make safe decisions.
Your friend may be feeling ashamed or feel she is to blame for the abuse, or that she deserves it, as abusers often tell the person they are hurting that it is their fault. It’s important to know that domestic abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. There’s nothing that your friend could do that would make it acceptable for him to abuse her. Her self-esteem will likely be low so it’s good to lift her up and let her know that she is much stronger than she feels at the moment.
She may still love him and believe that he may change. Unfortunately, until she acknowledges he is abusive and is ready to reach out for support, the abuse is likely to continue. It usually gets worse over time.
Talk to her about all of these things and try not to be judgmental if she isn’t ready to reach out for support yet. As a friend, one of the best things that you can do is direct her to expert support. If she is ready to think about leaving, support staff may direct her to a refuge, however, the decision to leave the relationship has to ultimately come from her and sometimes it may take several attempts. There are legal options she could pursue such as an injunction against him, or involving the police but it’s important she is properly supported to do this. Direct her to the Women’s Aid Live Chat or her local domestic abuse service.
If you feel that either you or your mum are in physical danger you should call the police. They are the only service that will be able to intervene in order to protect you both.
It’s important to talk to your mum and make sure that she knows you are there for her as it’s likely that the abuser will try to isolate her from her family. If you live in the home with your mum you could talk to her about how the abuse is affecting you and making you feel. Remember you also have a right to live in a home free from abuse.
Your mum may feel that she is to blame for the abuse. Remember that only the abuser is responsible for the abuse, there is nothing that your mum could do that would make it acceptable for him to treat her this way.
There is help available for your mum, and you. Services like The Mix or Barnardos can support you. You could tell your mum about the Women’s Aid Live Chat or a local domestic abuse service. If she wants to get out of the home, these expert services can help her access legal options, like having him removed from the home.
Information and support for survivors
Our domestic abuse services provide a wide range of information and support to survivors of abuse from fully trained, expert female support workers. Many are for survivors only, but it’s useful to know what we provide so you can share them with your loved ones experiencing abuse.
Women’s Aid is not an emergency service. If you think you might be in danger, call the police on 999.
If you are a professional, currently working with a survivor of abuse, Women’s Aid runs the dedicated service for professionals to support you.
Our Women’s Aid services include: