Family & Friends
When someone you know or love is being abused
When someone is being abused there may be warning signs that are obvious such as injuries caused by being hit, kicked or punched, but other signs may not be immediately recognised as warning signals that violence and control is happening in a persons life. Constant text messaging or phone calls are sometimes missed as signs that something is wrong in a relationship. Extreme jealousy or checking up on a partner can be a sign that the relationship is unhealthy and may be violent. Victims of domestic violence may gradually reduce contact with you or may become anxious to get back home when visiting you. If you know or suspect that a family member, friend or work colleague is experiencing domestic violence, it may be difficult to know what to do.
It is helpful to remember that:
- One in four women will have experienced domestic violence during her lifetime, so it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Many women live with domestic violence for years before telling someone or seeking help.
- The abuser is the one that is responsible for the violence or abuse. The victim is not to blame.
- Domestic Violence is a dangerous situation and should not be taken lightly.
- Domestic Violence is a crime.
- All women and children have a right to live their lives free from violence and abuse. Violence is never acceptable, nor should it ever be considered part of anyone’s culture.
- Your support can make a difference. If a woman feels supported, encouraged and believed, she may feel stronger and more able to make decisions.
- If she feels criticised or judged by you, she may feel afraid to tell you or anyone else about the abuse again.
The big questions…
Why doesn’t she leave?
Why does she return to, or take the abuser back?
On average an abused women may leave her partner up to seven or eight times before she breaks away for good. If someone who has been suffering from domestic violence is going to be able to make a permanent separation they will need ongoing and consistent support. This includes support from understanding family and friends and organisations like West Connect that specialise in aiding victims of domestic violence.
To see someone you know or love being hurt is difficult. To see someone who is being abused stay or return to the relationship can be heartbreaking and frustrating. Why doesn’t she leave him? Why does she put up with it? What’s wrong with her? Can’t she see that he will never change? These are commonly asked questions. Why don’t we ask – Why doesn’t he leave? Why does he stay? Why does he do it?
Sometimes it seems almost impossible to comprehend why a woman would return to an abusive relationship, especially after going through all the trouble of leaving. There are many factors that may contribute to someone staying in, or returning to an abusive relationship. Fear is probably the primary reason, but there are many tactics used by abusers to lure or guilt a woman back.
She may still love her partner. The abuser may have made good with his past promises to change by, making appointments to get counselling, getting a job, stopping drinking or taking drugs etc. She may see these attempts to change as a sign that the abuse will stop. Often women return to their abusers because they feel sorry for them. It is common for an abuser to threaten suicide if their partner leaves or refuses to return.
Sometimes the abuser will play on her love for her children and convince her that she cannot provide for them alone. The abuser may manipulate the children through coercion, bribes or threats to a point where they beg their mother to return. The abuser may threaten to fight her for custody or even threaten to harm or even kill the children if she leaves or refuses to return.
These are just a few reasons why women find it extremely difficult to leave or stay away. After a period of time a victim is worn-down and exhausted by simply trying to keep the peace and survive each day. They may experience pressure from their own family or religious institutions to reconcile, especially if the abuse has been hidden for some time. Moreover, perpetrators of domestic violence work hard to ensure that their victims stay with them. No, one factor can be attributed to this complex issue.
Fear of being injured or killed keeps many women in abusive relationships, and their concerns are legitimate. The risk of death or injury to a victim is greatest when leaving an abusive relationship or shortly thereafter.
So what can you do?
If you are worried about what you suspect is happening in your friend or loved one’s relationship but they haven’t opened up to you about it, you should try being direct and say something like “I’m concerned about your safety… I’m worried about you and how you are being treated….” The person may deny there is a problem or avoid the conversation. If this happens,respect their right to privacy and don’t force them to discuss the relationship with you if they are not ready. Let them know that if they ever want to talk about it, you are there for them.
If they do confide in you, listen without judgement. Try to be sensitive to what they are saying, remembering that it takes a great deal of courage and strength for someone who is living with abuse to share this information. Believe what they tell you. Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault. Focus on supporting her and building her confidence.
If they haven’t spoken to anyone else, encourage them to seek assistance from a domestic violence support service. Offer to go with them for support if it’s appropriate and it’s what they want.
Be patient. Don’t insist that she leaves or criticise her for staying. This can be difficult when you are worried that she will be hurt. Although it’s natural for you to want her to be out of harms way, she has to make the decision herself and in her own time.
Acknowledge that domestic violence is complex and confusing. She may try to excuse the abusers behaviour and blame it on outside factors such financial hardship, job loss,stress, alcohol or drug use.
It’s important to understand that domestic violence follows a cycle. Violent or abusive episodes are often followed by remorse when the abuser is apologetic, calm, caring and nurturing. This period of time is often described as the honeymoon phase. The abuser may beg for forgiveness and promise that they will never behave like that again. They are often attentive, loving and kind and display the traits that initially attracted him/her to the victim. It is important to remember that they may still love their partner. They want the abuse to end – not the relationship. During the honeymoon phase, when the abuser is promising to get help or change it is extremely hard to walk away.
Here’s some things that might be useful to do to help increase safety:
- Help plan where she and her children could go if she needs to leave. You can find a list of helpful numbers on this page. Perhaps you could make contact with a domestic violence service such as West Connect or a women’s shelter in your area and get some advice about what to do if and when she decides to leave.
- Encourage her to talk about her situation with the local police Domestic Violence Liaison Officer (DVLO) who could discuss options for getting a protection order or get some advice from someone who specialises in supporting victims of domestic violence.
- Agree on a signal or code that she can use to let you know that she needs help. For instance you might agree that if she rings you and says ”I need to cancel my appointment tomorrow” this means she needs help, but isn’t able to talk. Have a discussion about what you will do if you receive such a call such as contacting the police.
- Help her to prepare an ‘escape bag’ which she can hide in a safe place or leave at your house. This could include basic clothing items, spare keys, bank details, medications identification documents, birth certificates, passports, legal papers and any other important documents for herself and the children.
What not to do …
Here’s some things that may NOT be helpful
- Don’t ask questions like ‘What did you do to provoke him?’ or ‘Why do you put up with it?’ These questions suggest that it is somehow her fault.
- Don’t tell her what to do or give her your opinion. This will only limit her ability and her confidence to make her own decisions. It’s likely that the abuser has been telling her what to do for a long while. She doesn’t need anyone else to make her feel like she can’t think for herself. Offer to help her find the information she needs if you don’t have it.
- Beginning a conversation with ‘If it was me….’ will not help. It’s not you, or about you, so try to keep focused on supporting the victim without judging what you might do if you were in her shoes.
- Don’t pressure her to leave or try to make decisions on her behalf. Focus on listening and supporting her to make her own decisions. She knows her own situation best.
- Don’t confront the abuser. This could make things even worse and can be very dangerous for the person you are hoping to protect.
- Don’t spend time trying to work out the ‘reasons’ for the abuse. Try to concentrate on supporting the person who is being abused.
Supporting a friend or relative who is being abused can be frightening, frustrating and stressful. You need to look after yourself as well. If you would like to talk to someone about the situation please contact us.