You may know a sister, brother, mum, dad, colleague, neighbour, cousin or friend who is experiencing abuse behind closed doors.
You may also be wondering why they stay in an abusive relationship. Most people start a relationship being in love with that other person, those experiencing abuse may still have feelings for them and want the relationship to continue, they may feel that the other person may change and things will ‘go back to what they used to be like’, they may have children with that person and don’t want to break the family up, they may not have the strength to leave the relationship or confidence to leave. They may not have the finances to leave the relationship; they may be scared of what to expect if they leave as they have been in that situation for so long.
The person abusing them may not be their partner, it could be their adult or teenage child; parent or sibling; carer who is also a family member for example, and the bond between them could make it harder to leave that relationship. They may have pets that they are unsure what to do with if they move properties.
The list of reasons is endless and even if you do not understand them you can still try to empathise with that person and help them the best you can.
If you think a friend, family member, neighbour or work colleague is suffering domestic abuse, there are things that you can do to help.
Tell them they are NOT to blame for the abusive behaviour, that they are not alone and that there is help and support available.
Practical support you can offer
- Approach the issue in a sensitive and caring way, say something like ‘I am worried about you because……’ and ‘how can I help?’
- Let them know that you are concerned and want to help them.
- Believe what they tell you.
- Do not be judgmental or expect them to make a sudden decision. Support them do not judge them.
- Help them with practical things like being a babysitter, if safe to do so, so they can attend appointments with professionals; offer them an excuse to leave the house so they can have a respite from the abuse; be a taxi or offer them money so they can get to appointments. This will allow them to get the specialised support they need and see you as reinforcing that they are believed.
- Other practical help could be around pets. Offer to take the pet for them if they want to leave the abuser but can’t take the pet with them.
- Take the abuse seriously. The fear of the abuse can be very damaging, both physically and emotionally and is very destructive to a person's self-confidence and self-esteem.
- The importance of breaking the silence and ending the isolation someone feels cannot be underestimated. Always listen to what they say.
- Remember that supporting someone is a challenge. They may not make decisions that you feel are right - they may choose to stay with the abusive person. Don't judge them for this, keep believing in them and be there for them when they need you.
- Stay in contact with them over time, help them to explore the choices they have, and try to focus on theirs and your safety rather than the abuser or the relationship.
- Ensure your response supports and encourages them to talk about the situation. It could create an opportunity for them to explore their options and in time make their decisions.
- Reassure them that the abuse isn't their fault. Violence is a choice the abuser makes and the abuser is responsible for their behaviour.
- Acknowledge their strengths and constantly remind them of the fact that they are coping well with a challenging and stressful situation.
- Do not mediate or be the contact person between them and the abuser.
- Assure them of the fact that they are not alone and there is help available to them.
- Find out about local specialist support services and helpline numbers. [details are below]
- Encourage them to speak to a specialist support service if they haven't spoken to one already for further support.
- Offer practical help such as the use of your address for post, telephone or computer.
- Offer to keep safe copies of important documents and other items like money, clothing etc. in case they decide to leave in a hurry.
Develop a safety plan
Encourage the development of a safety plan - for them and for any children or other vulnerable people in the house:
- An agreement with you that they and any children can stay with you for a night or two in an emergency. Preferably at an address the perpetrator is not aware of.
- A secret pay as you go cheap mobile phone, as it is really common for abusers to take phones off people, or end contracts so the mobile phone cannot be used.
- Make sure they keep their mobile charged at all times, so they can call for assistance if needed.
- Agree a code word or action that they can use to signal that they need help.
- Suggest your friend, family member or work colleague informs a neighbour they can trust about what is happening so that if they need to flee they can go there in an emergency, and then wait there for the police.
- Suggest a 'survival kit' - a bag that can be hidden or left with you that has the things they could need if they have to flee / leave at short notice.
The bag could contain [these are suggestions only and will be unique to each person]:
- Some money - either in cash or a 'secret' bank account, you could hold that money or the bank details for them so the abuser is unaware of it. If they don't have their own bank account in their own name it could be a good idea to get one if possible. Having access to some money solves a lot of problems if they are planning to leave.
- Spare clothing.
- Passport, benefit information, birth certificates, marriage certificates etc.
- Medicines for them and any children together in a box.
- Phone charger.
- Spare car key.
- List of emergency telephone numbers [GP, work, school, benefits etc.]
- Toiletries and sanitary products.
Encourage the person to break the isolation - by reporting the abuse. Encourage them to take all threats very seriously. Never minimise the threats made by the abuser.
Remember that supporting someone is a challenge. Look after yourself while supporting your friend, colleague or family member. Remember to keep yourself safe at all times. Most of all be very patient and do not give up on them because your help and support can make a difference.
If you are concerned for a work colleague you could check if your employer has a Domestic Abuse policy in place, for those who are experiencing domestic abuse, with your Personnel department. This could offer useful support with work issues for the person you are concerned for.
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