Knowing someone you love has been hurt, and may be hurt again can be scary, overwhelming and even frustrating. You may be unsure of what’s happening or how you can help. The decision to leave an abuser or report a crime can only be made by the person experiencing the violence, but you can help your loved ones, friends, or even co-workers stay safe and know they’re not alone.
Knowing someone you love is experiencing violence can be traumatizing in and of itself. If you’re experiencing anxiety, feeling lost, or need support navigating these topics, please call the 24 Hour DVSAS Helpline at 360.715.1563 to find support and guidance in helping your loved ones.
Isolation is one of the most common experiences of assault and abuse victims. They may feel judged or embarrassed, or the abuser may be deliberately cutting them off from their support networks. It may feel embarrassing or scary for a survivor to even bring up a conversation about what they’re experiencing.
Be supportive and listen.
Acknowledge that they are in a scary and difficult situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. While it may be challenging, frustrating or even hurtful to watch their choices, survivors deserve consistent support.
Should they choose to end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them.
Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They may need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time. Focus on your friend and their experience rather than on the abusive partner or assailant. Should your friend stay in a relationship with that partner, it’s important they will still feel safe talking with you. And if they do leave, they may experience mourning and sadness. They’ll still need you.
Encourage them to build and participate in relationships outside their relationship.
Support is critical and the more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner. However, many abusive partners deliberately isolate their victims from these networks. Try to stay supportive, even if your loved one seems unavailable.
Help them develop a safety plan.
Talk about things they can do when they are feeling at risk of experiencing violence to feel safer. Identify resources for themselves and their children. Help them think about the ways they’ve stayed safe in the past, and what options they may have for their future.
Encourage them to talk to people who can help.
Call DVSAS at (360)715-1563 to talk to an advocacy counselor and help them schedule an appointment. Offer to go with them if they need extra support. If they have to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.
Remember that you cannot “rescue” them.
Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It may feel frustrating, terrifying or baffling to be with your loved one in such a challenging time. No matter what they decide, your support is important and can help them find a way to safety and peace.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Supporting someone in an abusive relationship can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Make sure you have the support you need, are practicing your own self-care and modeling healthy relationships of your own. Know that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, DVSAS advocates are also here for you. Call 360.734.4616 any time, day or night to speak with an advocate.
Remember: being supportive and caring IS doing a lot. You’re showing your friend they are worthy of being loved and respected.
Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.
Abuse is a learned behavior. Sometimes people see it in their own families. Other times they learn it from friends or popular culture. However, abuse is a choice, and it’s not one that anyone has to make. Many people who experience or witness abuse growing up decide not to use those negative and hurtful ways of behaving in their own relationships. While outside forces such as drug or alcohol addiction can sometimes escalate abuse, it’s most important to recognize that these issues do not cause abuse.
Who can be in an abusive relationship?
Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be the victim of abuse. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. While an abusive person often blames their partner to justify their behavior, abuse has nothing to do with the person it’s directed at, and it’s never a result of anything to do with the relationship or a particular situation. Abuse is a personal choice and a strategic behavior used to create the abusive person’s desired power dynamic. Regardless of the circumstances of the relationship or the pasts of either partner, no one ever deserves to be abused.
Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change, but there are things you can do to encourage them to engage in healthier behaviors. It’s not easy for abusive people to admit that their violent behavior is a choice and accept responsibility for it. They may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the abuse. Do not support the abuse in any way. Remember, you’re not turning against your friend or family member — you’re helping them have a healthy relationship.
Is change possible?
While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so.
A lot of the causal factors behind abusive behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege, which can be very hard to change. But change is possible — and reaching out for help is a great first step.
One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. We don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).
For referrals to local batterers treatment programs, please call (360) 715-1563.