Watching someone experience abuse is challenging, especially if that person is someone you know and love. Abuse is about power and control, meaning there may be a clear imbalance in the relationship where one partner has or ends up with more power and control over the other.
Find Ways to Start a Conversation
Conversations with a survivor about their situation can be hard: they may not want to discuss the abuse they’re experiencing for any number of reasons, including fear, shame, or even concern for their partner who has abusive behavior.
If you’ve noticed warning signs of abuse affecting someone in your life, your instinct may be to intervene or even “save them” from the relationship, but it’s never that simple.
There are countless reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and leaving can be an especially dangerous period of time for them.
Knowing how to have conversations that empower survivors to make their own decisions is one of the most important ways you can help someone in an abusive relationship reach a safer place.
Steps You Can Take:
Start the Conversation:
- Find a safe and confidential time and location to talk privately to the person who may be experiencing abuse.
- Let them know that you care about them and express the concerns that you have. For example, you may say: “I’ve noticed that your partner says degrading things to you/doesn’t let you go out as much/puts you down in front of other people/etc. I care about you and think you deserve to be treated with respect. Is there anything you want to talk about?”).
- If your friend/loved one is defensive or unwilling to talk, respect what they are saying and don’t force the topic. Let them know that you’re available if they would ever like to talk.
- Hear the concerns that the survivor is sharing without attempting to “fix” their situation or to provide an immediate solution.
- Develop trust and rapport by listening with acceptance and without judgment.
- Learn to read between the lines. An individual may not identify as a “victim” – or see their spouse/partner as an “abuser”, but they may share information that provides you with the opportunity to recognize red flags.
- Start by believing. Avoid asking questions that could cause someone to believe you distrust or judge what they are sharing.
- Trauma can affect a survivor’s memory. They may struggle to remember details of the story or a sequence of events. Recognize that stories may sometimes be fragmented.
- Validate their choices and acknowledge their concerns. Show recognition of the hardships or difficult decisions they are facing.
- Express your concerns for their safety and well-being without judgement.
- Offer options and referrals to community resources without coercing or pressuring them to take steps they may not be ready to make.
- Assure them that they are not at fault and do not deserve to be abused.
- Do not disclose confidential information.
- Offer to help them to create a safety plan and allow the survivor to take the lead in developing a plan that will work for them. Remember, the survivor is the expert in their own experience.
- Support the survivor’s decisions and choices, even if they are not the choices you wish they would make. Remain open and let them know they are not alone.
- Ask them what you can do to continue to offer support.
- Let them know the ways in which you are able to stay connected and to offer support. Be sure to also set and communicate healthy boundaries that account for your own safety, needs and self-care.
- Ask how you can stay connected and continue to offer support in a safe way (ex. find a regular time to meet for coffee, talk on the phone, etc.).
- With the survivor’s permission, follow up with next steps that you can take to assist them in attaining their goals and in getting connected to resources
- Learn more about domestic violence, local resources and how you can be supportive. The resources below may be a helpful start!
Call our Crisis Hotline at 828-894-2340 for more information.
All calls are free and confidential.