If you believe that someone you know or care about is being abused, your help is critical to that person’s safety and wellbeing. If you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child, elderly, or disabled person, please contact the proper authority in your state/province or county/parish to make a report.
If that person is a teen or adult who is being abused by their dating partner, intimate partner or spouse, or former intimate partner or ex-spouse, a measured response is crucial.
The abuser maintains control by such behaviors. You acting in a similar manner — even if the abused person is your teenaged child — often has the unintended effect of pushing the victim back to the abuser, “the devil s/he knows.”
About the Partner
Remember that “leaving is a process, not an event,” and the average victim tries 7 times before making a permanent break from her abuser. There’s a very high likelihood they’re going to end up back together, and you speaking poorly of the abusive party now will likely only serve to isolate her from your help later. Limit your topics to your concerns, and don’t label his character. Not now. Until the victim is ready to label her experience as “abuse,” your labels might be translated as disrespect, or a reason why you can’t be trusted.
Assume Abuse is the “Worst Thing” the Victim Could Experience
There are more barriers keeping any victim in an abusive relationship than there is help to get them to safety. Everyone has different tolerance levels for different barriers. For some, homelessness or poverty might be worse than abuse; for others, separation from critical social supports, like childcare or job. Find out what the barriers to safety are so you can research programs for support — AND DON’T ASSUME THAT THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION is to “just leave.”
DO’s/Tell Your Friend/Family Member/Coworker:
- “I am concerned about you, and about how (name) treats you.” It is OK to mention a few concerning behaviors, but don’t overdo it; too much information at this stage may scare the victim into avoiding you. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t push it — if she does, LISTEN.
- “You are never to blame for (name)’s mistreatment of you, and what he is doing is not good for a healthy relationship.” If she tries to take the blame for his abusive behaviors, point out that even if she does need or want to change things about herself, abuse is never justified.
- “I am not here to judge, I am here to help; I just want you to be safe.” Tell your friend that you are collecting information for them, and how you are prepared to help should they need to find safety. Be realistic with the help you can provide, and set good boundaries around the help you give.
Tangible ways to help a victim prepare for safety:
- Childcare or transporting: for court hearings, so she can work, so children can maintain activities when she is working, to exchanges to minimize contact with abuser.
- Transportation: it is very common for abusers to sabotage the victim’s mode of transportation. If you have a vehicle you don’t need, or an extra bus/train pass, offer it.
- Temporary or permanent housing: for a weekend, a week, a month — however long you feel you can offer, to help get her on her feet. Family court/child protection are not supposed to penalize mothers for going into shelter, but they often do.
- Portable cash: especially if the victim has joint bank accounts with her abuser, she needs to anticipate that she will be cut off from them; have her brainstorm ways she can pull out “extra” cash (ex.–$20 with every grocery purchase or gas fill?) and get that money into gift cards, which are easier to hide away from prying eyes. If you can provide money, say so, and put reasonable expectations around it.
- Offer to keep irreplaceable things, or documents necessary for future applications: the more abusers break things that are dear to their victims, the more the victims become attached to others. Offer to keep grandmother’s china safe, or offer to shelter her pet(s) if you have room. It costs nothing to hold onto a box of her important papers (birth certificates, social security numbers, copies of mortgages/leases or bills, etc.), and will be helpful if and when she has to apply for assistance.
- Accompaniment to police, hospital or court: it is frightening for most victims to have to engage these systems — most which have a checkered history of revictimizing victims. Going along for moral support can sometimes help her get more compassionate care, and she will likely feel stronger for your silent companionship. Let her tell her story (unless she specifically asks you for help), and be a quiet comfort.
- Collect important phone numbers: start with National hotlines specific to her circumstances (https://ncadv.org/resources; https://ncadv.org/other-organizations in the USA), and for local resources, look up local domestic violence programs by contacting her state’s anti-domestic violence/sexual assault coalition.
- Get the victim a new phone number that is not tied to her abuser: “Burn phones,” or disposable phones are critical tools to separate the victim’s efforts for safety from her abuser’s efforts to monitor her. Especially if she expresses that her abuser knows more than he should, it is likely her electronic activity is being monitored. A new phone will allow her to call for help without him knowing. Encourage her to create a new email account that she can receive electronic communications, and talk to her about changing passwords to important accounts.
- DOWNLOAD My Safety Plan; Your Personal Security … In an Uncertain World
- DOWNLOAD Economic Security Considerations for Safer Survivors: A Victim Advocate Pocket Guide
It’s better to offer a little help, then expand your help as you feel comfortable, than to offer the world and feel overwhelmed quickly. Helping someone who is in danger because of their intimate partner can be worrying and exhausting, and helpers can often be targeted by the abuser. Remember, too, that abusers become MORE DANGEROUS AFTER THE VICTIM LEAVES, because they are desperate to regain control. The closer you are to the abusive party, the more careful you may need to be in offering help. Regular safety planning with the victim will be crucial. If you don’t know how to safety plan, contact your local domestic violence center for ideas; you can connect to them through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).