Domestic violence is more common than a lot of people realize, and it can be extremely hard for a survivor to speak up or seek help. You may not feel like it is your business to step in but doing so could drastically improve the survivor’s life. However, even if you believe that a friend, neighbor, or family member is experiencing domestic violence, you may not know how to help.
There are certainly some things that can help you help them. You do not want to judge them or put them in more danger of physical or emotional abuse. The first step is learning about domestic violence and the signs that a survivor may show.
Learning About Domestic Violence
Learning about domestic violence can make it easier to process the situation and confront the survivor. It can eliminate preconceived ideas that may be false and reinforce things that are true about domestic violence. You can also find helpful resources and services that may be beneficial.
In addition, it is important to learn the warning signs of domestic abuse. There are physical, emotional, and behavioral signs that you may be able to identify. Physical signs are often hidden from sight using makeup or excessive clothes, but black eyes, busted lips, marks on the neck or wrists, and other signs of harm are definitely a red flag. This does not mean that everybody who has an occasional bruise is a survivor of domestic abuse, but repeated signs, attempts to hide bruises and injuries, and other signs can help you determine if they may be suffering from violence inflicted by a cohabitator.
Emotional signs can be wide ranging. Low self-esteem is often a sign of domestic abuse, and the survivor may also seem afraid, apologetic, anxious, or depressed. Survivors may also have changes in sleeping habits, eating patterns, or lifestyle. They may even begin to drink or abuse other substances more. They may not want social interaction as much or may have lost interest in the things they used to enjoy.
A survivor’s behavior is also likely to change. Depending on the circumstances, it may be hard to see these changes; however, it is still a good idea to be aware of them, especially if they are combined with other warning signs. A survivor may isolate themselves or show up late to meet you. They may start to be extremely private about their home life or act fidgety when their partner is brought up in conversation.
It may also be helpful to know some of the reasons that a survivor may stay in an abusive relationship. They may be afraid to leave because they think their partner will become violent and aggressive (and these fears are statistically supported). They may also feel hopeful that their partner will change. Survivors may also believe that they should remain in a marriage no matter what.
Knowing the warning signs of and having an understanding of domestic violence is a great first to helping your friend. However, it still is only the start, and you need to keep some other considerations in mind in order to help in the best way possible.
Confronting the Survivor
It can be very difficult to bring up the touchy subject of domestic violence. You may find it helpful to use “I” statements. For example, say something like, “I am concerned about you because…” or “Lately, I have noticed some changes that I am worried about…” This allows them to explain some of the concerning signs and allows you to ask about the situation without sounding judgmental. Try not to force or excessively urge the potential survivor to speak. Take it slow and allow them to disclose information at their own pace.
It is important to believe the survivor when you confront them or when they choose to talk to you. The abuser may not seem violent to you, but they could be different behind closed doors. Survivors sometimes feel that nobody would ever believe them, and it can be comforting when you trust them. You can even say that you believe them and that none of the situation is their fault and can help them see their strengths and positive aspects of themselves that they cannot see because of low self-esteem caused by the abuse.
Try to encourage your friend to come to terms with the reality and let them know that not everyone suffers from abuse in their home. You can remind them that serious harm can occur, even from what may seem like minor violence.
You also need to actively listen without judging the survivor. Listen to their entire story without offering guidance. This will help the survivor open up and tell you everything that they want to get off of their chest. You can still ask clarifying questions, but it is important to let them speak about their emotions and the situation.
You should strive to confront a survivor during a calm time. If you can avoid confronting them during times of high temper, do so. This reduces the likelihood of violence against the survivor or you while trying to help.
Finally, try to validate their feelings. They may have conflicting emotions about their partner. They may have residual feelings towards them that do not fit the current situation. They may feel guilty, angry, hopeful, loving, afraid, or any other range of emotions. Let them know that you want to help and that it is normal to feel strong emotions in this type of situation. However, also let them know that it is not normal and that any type of abuse is not okay.
Making A Plan
Once you confront the survivor, you need to formulate a plan going forward. You can create a plan for the survivor if the violence occurs again or if they decide that they want to get out of the situation.
Survivors who leave abusive partners are at greater risk of being killed by the abuser than those who stay. Because of this, it is crucial to have a safety plan in place. You want to help the survivor identify a safe place to go to escape violence or if they decide to leave. You may also want to encourage them to come up with an excuse to leave during a threatening situation. A lot of people find a code word can be helpful that only family or friends know.
You may also help them create an escape package. This could be a backpack or bag with money, documents, keys, and necessary supplies like clothes. It can also include a list of emergency contacts.
You can also help your friend locate the necessary services. Find places in your community that help survivors of domestic violence. Find phone numbers for shelters, social services, support groups, counselors, and more. Be willing to help in any way that you can and assure them that you are available for them anytime. You can even offer to go with them when they go to visit with a lawyer or talk to the police. Immediate assistance can be found at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233.
Helping a survivor of domestic violence can be difficult, but it can also be the difference between continued abuse and freedom. Escaping from domestic abuse can help a survivor take back their life and could drastically improve their livelihood and well-being. Make sure that you know about domestic abuse and confront them in a non-judgmental way.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.