How to Help Someone in an Abusive Relationship
You may have heard more than usual about domestic abuse in 2020, as quarantines sometimes forced people into isolation with the threat they needed to get away from the most—their abuser. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience domestic violence each year.
Abuse can take other forms. While physical abuse is often the most easily identifiable, manipulation, gaslighting and emotional abuse are other serious forms that can take a devastating toll on victims.
In most cases, victims may not even be aware they're in danger or may not leave a dangerous situation on their own. If you become aware that someone you know is in an abusive relationship, here are some tips to keep in mind when navigating this delicate situation.
1. Develop an open line of communication...
Become a source of support and nonjudgmental communication for any person you think might be experiencing domestic abuse. Positioning yourself as a trusted friend will allow them to feel safe around you, opening the door to more difficult conversations down the road. For now, just make it known you're there for them and check in regularly.
2. …but don't insert yourself
Getting involved in the situation may feel like the best way to protect the victim, but inserting yourself can backfire in serious ways—particularly if the victim isn't ready to accept they're being abused. By inserting yourself, you could be putting yourself and the victim in danger. You never know how an abuser might react and even if they seem receptive to your words, they might take the accusation out on the victim in private.
In addition, you risk breaking the level of trust you've formed with the victim, leaving them without a confidant to turn to in the future.
3. Avoid talking badly about the abuser
Even if the victim is aware of their situation, hearing negative comments about their abuser can lead to feelings of judgment and shame. If the victim opens up to you, even in small ways, make sure you sympathize without casting judgment or blame. Responses such as "I'm sorry you're going through this" or "I hope you know this doesn't change how I view you" show you're on their side without casting judgment. Because victims of abuse often feel they have no control in their relationships, offering them choices where they're in the driver's seat can also be helpful. "What can I do to help?" and similar questions are beneficial in these situations.
4. Assume your conversations are being monitored
Abusers thrive on control, and they're likely to notice you spending more time with their significant other. They might read all of the victim's text and social media messages and may even be listening on the other end of the phone. It's important to be careful about what you say when communicating. Even if you're speaking to them one-on-one, some victims may share your conversation with the abuser. Always assume they're being monitored, so try not to say or send anything to the victim that would anger their abuser.
5. Call the police if you witness physical violence
While you shouldn't insert yourself into a situation, there is one exception. If you witness the victim being physically assaulted, call the police immediately. Help the victim (if you can without harming yourself) and record the incident if possible. You'll need to use judgment if this happens—in some cases filming might anger an abuser even more, but if you can discreetly record audio or video, it can help present a firm case against them.
Never pressure a victim to leave an abusive relationship
It can be overwhelmingly painful to watch someone you love be mistreated. You'll likely feel helpless and scared yourself. Getting a victim out of a dangerous situation is the ultimate goal, but unfortunately, doing so can take time and patience. In many cases, victims have to want to willingly leave this situation, and reaching this point can take years. Be sure to remain firmly involved in the victim's life, continue to talk to them without judging them and reach out to the authorities if anything escalates.