I’m worried about someone else

The chances are high that you may know a sister, mum, colleague, cousin or friend who is experiencing abuse behind closed doors.

Unless you are trying to help someone who has been very open about her experiences it may be difficult for you to acknowledge the problem directly.

However, there are some basic steps that you can take to assist and give support to a friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or anyone you know who confides in you that they are experiencing domestic abuse.

How you can help

  • Listen to her, try to understand and take care not to blame her. Tell her that she is not alone and that there are many women like her in the same situation.
  • Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse. Give her time to talk, but don’t push her to go into too much detail if she doesn’t want to.
  • Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and very difficult situation.
  • Tell her that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour.
  • Support her as a friend. Encourage her to express her feelings, whatever they are. Allow her to make her own decisions.
  • Don’t tell her to leave the relationship if she is not ready to do this. This is her decision.
  • Ask if she has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or to see her GP.
  • Help her to report the assault to the police if she chooses to do so.
  • Be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help to abused women and their children. Explore the available options with her. Tell her about the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247, and how to access this website.
  • Go with her to visit a solicitor if she is ready to take this step.
  • Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Let her create her own boundaries of what she thinks is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge her to follow any strategies that she expresses doubt about.
  • Offer your friend the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell her you will look after an emergency bag for her, if she wants this.
  • Look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Ensure that you do not put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, do not offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.

Supporting survivors
We answer your questions

My friend is experiencing domestic abuse – what should I do?

If your friend is being open with you and acknowledging the abuse, this is a positive sign. Try to keep the lines of communication open so that she doesn’t become more isolated. This is often a danger in an abusive situation.

However, the decision to leave the relationship has to ultimately come from her and sometimes it can take women several attempts before they leave the relationship for good.

She may be feeling ashamed of what’s happening and feel as if she’s to blame for the violence. An abusive person will often tell the person they are hurting that it is their fault. Domestic abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. There’s nothing that your friend could do that would make it ok for him to abuse her.

Her self-esteem will probably be very low as a result of what has been happening. This can make her feel as if she wouldn’t be able to cope on her own. However, in reality she could probably cope a lot better than she thinks. If she wasn’t being abused she would be able to gradually build up her self-confidence and she would start to feel better about herself.

She may still love him and believe that he may change. This is often why women stay in abusive relationships for a long time. Unfortunately, unless he acknowledges that he has a problem and seeks professional help 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 judgemental if she isn’t ready to do anything yet. One of the best things that you can do is point her in the direction of some help. Of course it’s fantastic if you can be there to support her but it will also help both her and you if she contacts an organisation for practical and emotional support.

If she wants to leave she could think about going to stay in a refuge. There may be legal options she could pursue such as an injunction against him, or involving the police. She could also get in touch with a local domestic abuse service for support, whether she wants to leave or to stay in the relationship.

 My mum’s partner is abusive – how can I help her?

Maybe you could try to talk to her about what’s happening. She may be feeling ashamed of what’s happening and think that she is to blame. Remember that only her partner 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. Does she have friends or other family members that she can confide in? Encouraging her to talk about it is a really good step in the right direction.

If you still 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.

There is help available for your mum. If she wants to get out of the home she could go to stay in a refuge. She could get some emotional and practical support from a local domestic abuse service. There may be legal options that she could think about, like having him removed from the home or contacting the police.

If you live with your mum and at any point you feel that either you or her 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.

My mum and I live with my dad but he mentally abuses my mum by shouting at her and saying nasty things. She cries all the time and says we don’t have enough money to leave. I’m 16 and doing my exams and just want all the noise to stop – can you help us?

The way that your dad is treating your mum is completely unacceptable and would be classed as domestic abuse. Remember that neither you nor your mum is responsible for what is happening. There’s help available for you both to help you to get out of this situation.

It may be possible to have your dad legally removed from the house by way of an injunction called an occupation order. To do this she would need to gather evidence of the emotional abuse and seek expert legal advice. If she doesn’t have an income of her own or is on a low income she will probably qualify for legal aid to cover the costs.

Alternatively your mum and you may be able to go in to a woman’s refuge in order to get away from the abuse. However, this will probably mean leaving the local area and you changing schools. It may be possible to get some emergency accommodation in the local area through the local authority housing department.

Your mum and you can also get some support and help from a local domestic abuse service. They would be able to help your mum think through her options and decide what is the best thing to do.

Remember that you and your mum do not have to continue to live this way. There is help out there for you both.

I’ve heard fighting going on at my next-door neighbour’s house. What can I do to stop it happening?

This can be a difficult problem as, being a neighbour, you don’t necessarily know her very well and you don’t know exactly what’s happening.

However, if you hear an incident and think that your neighbour is in danger, and any children she may have are also, then we would suggest contacting the police.

The police have a responsibility to respond and to undertake a risk assessment where there is domestic abuse taking place.

If there are children in the house and you are concerned for their safety you could consider contacting social services. They would be able to work with the woman to help her protect her children from harm.

If possible, you could mention to your neighbour that you’ve overheard some fighting and that you’re worried about her. You can then encourage her to seek some help. There will be options available to help her put a stop to what’s going on.

My friend keeps getting back together with her abusive boyfriend and I now find myself irritated, tired and getting angry with her, none of which are helpful. I don’t want to desert her, but I’m so frustrated with the situation that I don’t know what to think or do for the best. Any advice on what I can do?

It’s understandable that you’re in a very frustrating situation. Unfortunately, unless your friend chooses to take some action and remove herself from this situation there’s little that you can do to make her.

She’s only likely to leave and not return if the decision is her own and she doesn’t feel that she’s being pushed into doing things she doesn’t want to do.

It seems that you’re doing everything that you can by being a friend and by being there for her. Remember that you can’t change the situation for her and that you must also look after yourself.

Try to understand the reasons that your friend may have for staying in the relationship. She may still love him and believe that he’ll change. Although it’s possible for abusive people to change their behaviour, this takes a lot of effort and full acknowledgement that the abuse is their responsibility.

Professional help would normally be required in order for a person to realise why they are abusive and to address their own issues. What normally happens is that the abuse increases in frequency and severity over time.

Perhaps you could discuss this with your friend, but remember that you can’t force her to realise this.

At the moment it seems that she’s hoping that he will change. It’s quite normal for a woman to attempt to leave an abusive relationship several times before making the final break.

She may feel that she couldn’t cope on her own. As a result of the abuse her self-esteem is likely to be very low. Often an abusive person will tell the other person that the abuse is their fault.

If somebody is constantly telling you something, eventually you start to believe it. Domestic abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. There’s nothing that your friend could do to make it acceptable for him to abuse her.

Talk to her about these things and try to understand if she’s not ready to leave the relationship just yet. Encourage her to get in touch with a local domestic abuse service.

This could take some of the pressure off you, as she would then have external help and support and someone else to talk to. She may find it easier to talk to someone that she doesn’t know.

Hopefully through getting support and realising that she’s not alone she will begin to build confidence in herself and then she will be more likely to be able to end the relationship.

Back to The Survivor’s Handbook


References

[1] Office for National Statistics (2015) Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2013/14 (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2015)

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