I'm Worried About Someone I Know
The chances are that you know someone who is experiencing domestic abuse. It might be your sister, neighbour, hairdresser, friend or colleague. If you know or suspect that someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse it can be upsetting, and difficult to know what to do.
For most people, their first instinct is to try to ‘save’ someone from the relationship, and to tell the person being abused that they have to leave their relationship. Unfortunately, it is almost never that simple.
There are lots of reasons why people stay with abusive partners, and leaving is often the most dangerous time for a woman and her children. It’s really important that you don’t put pressure on her to end the relationship; she can only do this when she is ready, and there are other ways you can help her until then.
It’s important that if you do suspect domestic abuse, you do not ignore it. Women experiencing abuse are often scared, ashamed and confused, and many don’t want to accept that their partner is abusive.
We will now try to answer some of the questions you may have:
Q1 Why doesn’t she just leave?
Perhaps the question which should really be asked here is “Why does he abuse her?”
Men’s violence against women is a huge problem in our society but too often, where he is violent and abusive we ask what she could have done differently. Domestic abuse is never the victim’s fault.
It can be very hard to end an abusive relationship. There are so many reasons why women feel like they can’t leave. This can be really frustrating for friends and family who are aware of or suspect abuse, because it’s hard to see someone you love be hurt. It’s important to be patient and try to understand how difficult her situation is, even if it seems very clear to you.
It is likely that she has very low self-esteem, because her abuser will be always telling her that she is unworthy, undeserving, ugly and useless. Women often feel like no-one will ever love them again. He will probably tell her that it is her fault he acts like this and make her feel like the abuse is her fault and that she is lucky to be with him. When someone who you love and who is supposed to love you tells you these things it is hard to find the strength and confidence that you need to leave.
Some women are dependent on their partner and might have no control over their money or house. She might feel as though she has no options. Leaving might mean leaving her home, income, family and support network. It might mean taking her children out of school, moving away from her community and starting fresh with nothing. The things she may gain from leaving, like safety from abuse and more confidence in herself, aren’t instant, and they aren’t guaranteed.
Leaving an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time for women, as they take back control from their abusive partner. Some men become violent when women decide to leave, and if they are already violent it can get much worse. He might bring her gifts, promise he is sorry and that he will change, or he could threaten to hurt her, her children or even himself if she leaves.
For these reasons and more, it can take several attempts for women to leave a relationship for good.
The best thing you can do for her is to listen to her, support her, believe her and don’t judge her if she isn’t ready to leave.
If she does want to leave she could think about going to stay in a refuge. There may be legal options she could pursue such as a non-harassment order, or involving the police. She could also get in touch with a local domestic abuse service [insert link to map] for support, whether she wants to leave or to stay in the relationship.
Q2 I think my friend is being abused but I don’t know how to bring it up or what to say.
If you think someone you know is being abused, it can be difficult to know what to do. Even though domestic abuse is common, it can be hard to talk about it and we don’t always know what to say.
It can take time for a woman to realise she is being abused, and even more time for her to be able to speak about it – some women will never tell anyone about their experience.
If you choose to speak to her about what you’ve seen or noticed, here are some things to try and some things to avoid:
Try to be direct, by saying something like ‘I’m worried about you because…’
Avoid judging her, or making her feel bad for staying in the relationship
Try to listen to her, let her share how she is feeling and believe what she is telling you
Avoid telling her how you think she should feel, making her feel guilty, or that the abuse is her fault by suggesting she behave differently
Try to offer her options for support like her local domestic abuse service, and let her know help is available for her
Avoid giving her any ultimatums, telling her she has to leave, or putting any pressure on her to make decisions
Try to remind her that the abuse is not her fault and that you know she is in a difficult situation
Avoid criticising and insulting her partner, this could make her stop talking to you or make her feel as though she should defend him
Try to build her self-confidence and remind her often that she is strong and capable
Avoid showing that you are frustrated because she doesn’t want to leave or because she believes he will change
Try to listen to how she wants to handle the abuse and respect that she might not want to or feel safe enough to report it.
Avoid putting pressure on her or telling her she has to report him to the police – this might make her withdraw
Try to find practical ways to support her, like offering to go to the doctor with her or to a support agency and being ready with information about what support she can expect
Avoid making her feel like she is a bad mum or that she is not looking after her children
Remember, she might not open up to you the first time that you speak to her about abuse. Be patient and give her opportunities to talk without putting pressure on her. It can be a really difficult topic to talk about and it is hard to imagine what she is going through.
Q3 How can I help her to be safe?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that leaving equals safety This isn’t true. Women must decide in their own time whether they want to leave, and when is the right time for them.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help her to stay safe:
- Agree a code word or action that is only known to you both so that she can signal, call or text you when she is in danger and cannot access help herself
- Don’t make plans for her yourself, but encourage her to think about her safety more closely and focus on her own needs rather than those of the abuser
- Find out information about local services for her and offer to help her access support
- Offer to keep spare sets of keys or important documents, such as passports or benefit books, in a safe place for her so that she can access them quickly in an emergency
- Offer to keep an emergency bag of clothes and toiletries for her and any children, in case they need to leave in a hurry
- Encourage her to think of ways in which she can increase the safety of her children
- Stick with her. Abusive partners often want to drive their victim’s friends away to further isolate her – keep being her friend and try to help her to build her outside contacts and support networks
- Don’t speak to her partner about what is happening as this could put you and her in danger
Q4 Who else can help?
Domestic abuse can be very isolating. It’s important for women to know that there are lots of people they can speak to if they need help, support or advice. It might be helpful for you to offer to go with her or support her to access help if she wants you to. You can also find a list of organisations offering support and advice HERE.
If you believe someone you know is, or may be, experiencing domestic abuse, please call us on 01224 593381, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our online form HERE, for free, confidential advice
When our phone lines are closed, Scotland’s Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage helpline is always available on 0800 027 1234, email email@example.com or on Web Chat HERE