Throughout my 22-year
Believe them – Often family and friends are not aware that abuse is occurring in someone’s life, which results in survivors feeling alone and isolated. They may be working hard to keep the abuse from those they care about, which can result in them feeling as if they are living two lives. They may be hiding the abuse due to fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment or a variety of other reasons. When they decide to come forward and ask for help, one of the worst things people can do is say, “Oh he wouldn’t do that.” Not believing a person is in a domestic violence situation can be devastating for that survivor and push him/her even further into isolation and feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Listen –In many cases, domestic violence survivors have no one to talk to or turn to for support. Abusers constantly shame and isolate their victims. Abusers don’t let their partners spend time with friends or family. This alienation reinforces point one and contributes to the survivor’s feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness.
Just listening can be life saving for that person experiencing abuse. The survivor may not be looking for help, just someone to be with; someone who will listen, believe them and not judge them. In some cases, this is the survivor’s way of thinking out-loud. One thing to remember when listening is that even though you may give advice, the decision is ultimately up to the survivor as to the best course of action to take. Multiple factors go into the decision to leave or not to leave, and ultimately it is up to the survivor to make that decision, but he/she will still need support and a listening ear - whatever the decision. Research shows that it can take a person an average of seven times to leave a relationship before they are able to leave for good. So patience may be required.
Don’t offer ultimatums – Friends want what is best for each other. It is easy to think your relationship means more to a survivor/friend who seeks advice. However, it can be an extremely difficult decision for a survivor to take that step and leave. Do not force the friend into a decision to leave. Abuse is about power and control. Most likely, for a majority of the survivor’s relationship, she/he has been powerless to the control the abuser has over them. If you push a friend into an ultimatum to leave, you are one more person who is trying to take away the survivor’s power and make the decision for him/her.
Be ready with resources – As a supporter of Hope House, you already know we serve survivors and families who suffer from domestic violence. Our hotline is an easy number to remember – 816-461-HOPE (4673). You can direct them to our website – hopehouse.net. There, we have examples of warning signs, our hotline number and a listing of all our resources so they know exactly how we can help. We also offer support to family and friends. If you feel you need support, please call our hotline and we can talk with you about your needs around your family member or friend who is experiencing domestic violence.
Additionally, you can discuss having a safety plan. If the survivor has a friend or relative they can escape to in times of great fear, talk about this with them. Ask if they have an emergency kit with clothes, money or other necessities if she/he has to escape in a hurry. Talk about avoiding rooms with items that could be used as weapons. If there are weapons in the house, know where they are and avoid them if possible. Discuss possible ways to get support at work if the abuser is harassing them at the office. How can the survivor change his/her use of technology? Some ideas include changing passwords to cell phones and email or on-line accounts, changing on-line accounts to one with only the survivor on it, getting a new cell phone or new computer, checking to see if there are monitoring devices on cell phones, on-line accounts, computers and vehicles. These are just a few ideas you can offer. You can check out our Safety Plan Tips for a more comprehensive list of items to consider in safety planning. Each situation is unique, so it is important to look at all factors and it is ok to be creative in creating solutions for safety.
Be patient – Again, do not be discouraged if nothing happens after your conversation. Fear, children, finances and many other factors can constrain the survivor’s ability to leave. You may not be aware of all the factors in the relationship, so don’t jump to any conclusions that the survivor doesn’t “really” want your help or isn’t listening. Help the survivor document, be a friend and listen, help create a safety plan and be ready to help if they decide to leave and need your help.