How to help a victim of domestic violence
Learn the Warning Signs
Maybe you've seen the person wearing clothing to cover up bruises or noticed that the person has suddenly become unusually quiet and withdrawn. Both can be signs of abuse.
Many people try to cover up the abuse for a variety of reasons, and learning the warning signs of domestic abuse can help you help them:
- Black eyes
- Busted lips
- Red or purple marks on the neck
- Sprained wrists
- Bruises on the arms
- Low self-esteem
- Overly apologetic or meek
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Anxious or on edge
- Substance abuse
- Symptoms of depression
- Loss of interest in once enjoyed activities and hobbies
- Talking about suicide
- Becoming withdrawn or distant
- Canceling appointments or meetings at the last minute
- Being late often
- Excessive privacy concerning their personal life
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
Make Time for Them
If you decide to reach out to an abuse victim, do so during a time of calm. Getting involved when tempers are flaring can put you in danger. Also, make sure to set aside plenty of time in case the victim decides to open up. If the person decides to disclose years of pent-up fear and frustration, you will not want to end the conversation because you have another commitment.
Start a Conversation
You can bring up the subject of domestic violence by saying “I’m worried about you because …..” or “I’m concerned about your safety…" or "I have noticed some changes that concern me..."
Let the person know that you will be discreet about any information disclosed. Do not try to force the person to open up; let the conversation unfold at a comfortable pace.
Listen Without Judgment
If the person does decide to talk, listen to the story without being judgmental, offering advice, or suggesting solutions. Chances are if you actively listen, the person will tell you exactly what they need. Just give the person the full opportunity to talk.
You can ask clarifying questions, but mainly just let the person vent their feelings and fears. You may be the first person in which the victim has confided.
Believe the Victim
Because domestic violence is more about control than anger, often the victim is the only one who sees the dark side of the perpetrator. Many times, others are shocked to learn that a person they know could commit violence.
Consequently, victims often feel that no one would believe them if they told people about the violence. Believe the victim's story and say so. For a victim, finally having someone who knows the truth about their struggles can bring a sense of hope and relief.
Validate the Victim's Feelings
It's not unusual for victims to express conflicting feelings about their partner and their situation. These feelings can range from:
- Guilt and anger
- Hope and despair
- Love and fear
If you want to help, it is important that you validate her feelings by letting her know that having these conflicting thoughts is normal. But it is also important that you confirm that violence is not okay, and it isn't normal to live in fear of being physically attacked.
Some victims may not realize that their situation is abnormal because they have no other models for relationships and have gradually become accustomed to the cycle of violence. Tell the victim that violence and abuse aren't part of healthy relationships. Without judging, confirm to them that their situation is dangerous, and you are concerned for their safety.
Offer Specific Support
Help the victim find support and resources. Look up telephone numbers for shelters, social services, counselors, or support groups. If available, offer brochures or pamphlets about domestic violence.
Help Form a Safety Plan
Help the victim create a safety plan that can be put into action if violence occurs again or if they decide to leave the situation. Just the exercise of making a plan can help them visualize which steps are needed and to prepare psychologically to do so.
Be sure to include the following in the safety plan:
- A safe place to go in an emergency, or if they decide to leave home
- A prepared excuse to leave if they feel threatened
- A code word to alert family or friends that help is needed
- An "escape bag" with cash, important documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.), keys, toiletries, and a change of clothes that can be easily accessed in a crisis situation
- A list of emergency contacts, including trusted family or friends, local shelters, and domestic abuse hotline