Hidden Hurt Domestic Abuse Information

Helping Abuse Victims

Friends and Family Guide to Domestic Violence and helping abuse victims

While we want to be helping abuse victims, as a friend or family member of someone who is being abused, we often feel unsure of what is happening and helpless to change the situation. Below are a few guidelines and suggestions for helping in a Domestic Abuse situation without taking over and further denying the victim the ability and right to chose what is best for him or her.

How can I know for sure if someone is being abused?

Accept the fact that you will probably have to ask to be certain. Many people think that abuse victims do not want to talk about their home-life or situation. Many victims do make efforts to hide the abuse. They often do so because they fear embarrassment, their partner finding out, being blamed, not being believed, or being pressured to do something they're not ready or able to do. Ask the person privately. Understand that an abuse victim may not open up immediately. Don't be judgmental or pressuring - this relieves the burden of having to speak out and often results in the victim being more willing to disclose information, it also demonstrates your concern and willingness to help the abuse victim.

Keep it simple. If there are specific observations that are the source of your concern, you might approach the conversation by opening with, "I noticed 'a, b and c' and I'm concerned about you. Is there something I can do to help?" Or, "It seems like you're stressed out and unhappy. If you want to talk about it now or another time, I'll keep it confidential." Understand that a victim may not open up when first approached with an offer to help, but they do remember you offered. Open the door, let them know you are receptive and be prepared that you may have to wait.

People are sometimes hesitant to approach a friend or loved one about their concern because they feel that it is "none of their business", or that their help will not be wanted. But the notion that "what happens behind closed doors is off limits" often allows isolation from help and support for many victims. Very little is lost if your offer to help is refused, but many victims only need someone to reach out and offer support to begin moving toward making a change in their lives.

If you ask, be prepared to respond supportively

There are many things you can do to prepare yourself to offer supportive and empowering assistance to an abuse victim.

Learn all you can about domestic violence - Review the material on this website and the other links offered here, talk to a domestic violence advocate, read or participate in posts to message boards on domestic violence topics.

Initiate a conversation in private and make sure you have enough time for the conversation if the victim decides to open up.

Let go of any expectations you have that there is a "quick fix" to domestic violence or to the obstacles a victim faces. You must realize that staying in the relationship may be the safest option the victim has until they can figure out another plan. This does not mean that staying in the relationship is "OK", but it does mean that it takes time and planning for a victim to come to grips with the problem and figure out what to do or where to go.

Challenge and change any inaccurate attitudes and beliefs that you may have about abuse victims and battering. A person does not become an abuse victim because there is something wrong with them. In reality, they become trapped in relationships by their partner's use of violence and coercion. The better able you are to recognize and build on the resilience, strength, resourcefulness and decision-making abilities of the victim, the more you will able be to help them.

Providing supportive and empowering help

To help an abuse victim, you must understand the affects that living with abuse has on their self-esteem, sense of self-worth and belief in their own ability. A victim of domestic violence is not simply a physical captive - they are actually an emotional and mental captive as well. Support involves helping to rebuild or reinforce the victim's belief in themself and their own abilities.

Some people have found that giving their loved one some literature on domestic abuse has helped them to understand what is happening and be more open to discuss what is going on behind locked doors. The favourite is "Living with the Dominator" by Pat Craven.

To purchase in the UK: Living with the Dominator: A Book About the Freedom Programme: 1
To purchase in the US: Living With the Dominator

Believe the person and tell them you do. Remember that abusers most often behave differently in public than they do in private. So, even if you know the partner, you may never see them behave the way they treat the victim privately.

Listen to their comments. If you actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and avoid making judgments and giving advice, you will most likely learn directly from them what it is they need.

Build on the victim's strengths. Based on the information they give you and your own observations, actively identify the ways in which they have developed coping strategies, solved problems, and exhibited courage and determination, even if their efforts have not been completely successful. Help them to build on these strengths.

Support their decisions. Remember that there are risks attached to every decision an abuse victim makes. If you truly want to be helpful, be patient and respectful of a person's decisions, even if you don't agree with them.

Validate their feelings. It is common for victims to have conflicting feelings - love and fear, guilt and anger, hope and despair. Let them know that their feelings are normal and reasonable.

Avoid victim-blaming. Tell the victim that the abuse is not their fault. Reinforce that the abuse is the partner's problem and responsibility, but refrain from "bad-mouthing" the partner. Focus on the partner's negative behavior in your comments and not on your negative opinion of the partner's personality.

Take their fears seriously. If you are concerned about their safety, express your concern without judgment by simply saying, "The situation sounds dangerous and I'm concerned about your safety."

Offer help. As appropriate, offer specific forms of help and information - these can include recommendations for social services, legal referrals, support groups, etc. If you are asked to do something you're willing and able to do, do it. If you can't or don't want to, say so and help identify other ways to have that need met. Then look for other ways that you can help.

Be an active, creative partner in a victim's safety planning effort. The key to safety planning is taking a problem, considering the full range of available options, evaluating the risks and benefits of different options, and identifying ways to reduce the risks. Offer ideas, resources and information.


Return from Helping Abuse Victims to Abuse Victims

In This Section:

Related Pages:

When you are Family of a Domestic Abuse Victim - "I have found that there appears to be very little advice and support for the people witnessing the destruction and poison caused when seeing a loved one in an abusive relationship. This story may well appease the frustration and angst family members may be feeling."

Recommended Reading:

Books for Family and Friends trying to help abuse victims in the US:

Family and Friends' Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused  


Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women  

UK books for Family and Friends helping abuse victims are:

Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women  


Family & Friends' Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk and Take Action When Someone You Care About Is Being Abused


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UK National Domestic Violence Freephone number 0808 2000 247

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