Supporting friends and family
If you are worried that a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, there are ways you can help. Friends and family often try to stay ‘neutral’ in domestic abuse situations. Sadly, the abused person can see this as an indication that they are to blame for the abuse. Worse still, the abuser can see it as evidence that their actions are acceptable.
Domestic abuse is common and very dangerous. Domestic abuse is NEVER the abused person’s fault and it is NEVER acceptable. Only the abuser is responsible for their abuse. Remember, not all abuse is physical harm, and people may spend years in an abusive relationship without identifying it as such because they haven’t been physically hurt.
There are no excuses or reasons for abuse and the abuser is the only person who can stop their threatening, controlling, intimidating, and/or violent behaviours.
Supporting someone can be challenging. You may have to watch the abused person make decisions you don’t agree with. Remember that often, leaving an abusive partner only signifies the end of the relationship – not the end of the abuse, and victims will have to sacrifice a lot in order to leave. Trust them to know their situation best; you don’t have to live with the consequences of their decision.
Starting a conversation
Don’t wait to be told about their situation; bring the subject up yourself when the abusive partner isn’t around. Approach them about the abuse sensitively, for example by saying, “I’m worried about you because…”. The importance of breaking the silence and reaching out to them should never be underestimated. Listen to them non-judgementally, whilst maintaining that everyone has the right to safety and respect.
After you have had the initial conversation, here are some suggested constructive questions that may help the person you are supporting to clarify their thinking:
- What can I do to help?
- How has their behaviour made you feel?
- How is it affecting you?
- How have you been coping with the abuse?
- What can we put in place to make you more safe?
- What are you afraid of if you leave?
- What are you afraid of if you stay?
- What are you most concerned about for yourself/your children?
- What do you, or can you, do to protect yourself/your children?
- What personal strengths do you have that help you to manage this situation?
- What external resources are there to help you (friends and family, access to money, access to alternative accommodation)? How can these be increased?
- Can I help you find out about what other choices might be available?
- What do you see yourself as actually being able to do?
For information on what to do during Covid-19 restrictions, click here.
On a practical level, you can:
- Plan a code word or action that your friend can use to signal that they are in danger and cannot access help themselves.
- Offer to keep copies of important documents and an overnight bag for them so it’s easier for them to leave in a hurry.
- Find out about local services and help available.
- Offer the use of your phone number or address to receive information from support services.
- Encourage your friend to make a safety plan of action, such as planning an escape route out the house, and keeping a spare set of car keys securely outside.
- Never minimise threats made by the abuser.
- Remember that an abused person is in most danger when they decide to leave. Respect their judgement as to the right time to leave.
- Explain that coercive or controlling behaviour in a relationship is a crime and explore options of whether they want to report it. Keep records of what they tell you. This may be helpful if/when they go to the police.
- Remain non-judgemental and support them to break their isolation – ensure you stay in their life and do not get pushed out by the abuser, whilst encouraging mutual friends and family to do the same.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t tell a victim to ‘just leave’ or ‘just break up with them’. There are many reasons why they cannot, and leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship which must be done with support from specialist domestic abuse services.
- Do encourage them to contact local services or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for support. Information on support services can be found here.
- Do not attempt to mediate in an abusive relationship.
- Do support the abused person, whether they are ready to leave or not.
- Do not blame the victim. Concentrate on supporting them and working out ways they can protect themselves.
- Don’t focus on trying to work out reasons for the abuser’s behaviour – only they are responsible for this, and there is no valid or acceptable reason.
- Do let them know you are concerned and want to help.
- Do believe what they tell you and take it seriously.
- Don’t criticise their partner or the relationship; instead, focus on their safety and support their decisions.
- Don’t try to maintain a relationship with the abuser – it will have taken a lot of courage for the victim to disclose to you and approaching the abuser will suggest you don’t believe or support the victim.
- Do always be clear that the abuse is wrong.
Clare’s Law (Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme)
Since 2014, Clare’s Law gives any person the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. A member of the public can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member- this is called the Right to Ask. Professionals, including police officers, can apply under the Right to Know if they are concerned about someone. If police checks show a record of abusive offences or other information to indicate your friend or family member is at risk, the police will consider sharing this information with the people best placed to protect the potential victim.
The aim of this scheme is to give people a formal process to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be abusive towards their partner. It allows potential victims to make an informed decision about continuing the relationship and provides them with help and support. More information is available here.
You can contact your local police for advice by phoning 101.
Never give up on your loved one. You might be their only lifeline.
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