How to Help Someone in an Abusive Relationship

14441312531_6e107ceedf_oSadly, considering how pervasive domestic abuse is, it is likely most of us will have some involvement with it at some point in our lives – experiencing it ourselves or witnessing someone else’s struggle.  Here are ways you can help someone in an abusive relationship:

Respect the victim’s choices. She will decide when she wants to talk, what she wants to disclose, what kind of support she wants and whether or not to involve outside support or law enforcement.

Make a connection in a safe, confidential place. Approach her when the abuser is not around. Keep any information you learn in complete confidence; a breach of information could potentially cause her to be unsafe.

Express concern. Are you okay? I am concerned someone may be hurting you. You are not alone; I am here for you and care about you. These are things you may feel comfortable saying to someone you know well. But if you are concerned about someone you don’t know well, try in any way you can to make a connection, even if at first it’s just a bit of eye contact. Feeling connected, in even the smallest way, could turn into someone’s lifeline.

Listen without judging. She might feel responsible, ashamed, inadequate and afraid she will be judged. Believe and validate. Assure her the abuse is not her fault.

Trust her perspective. She knows what is or is not safe for her. It is a common instinct to recommend for someone to leave, but the most dangerous time for someone being abused is when they try to leave. There are many reasons someone may not be ready to leave, including keeping her children fed and housed.

Validate her. A person who has been abused often feels upset, depressed, confused and scared. Let her know that these are normal feelings.

Remind her of her strengths, wisdom and beauty. Let her know you think she is smart, strong and brave. Her abuser may be tearing down her self-esteem.

Discuss an intervention. Ask her what she wants you to do if you are witnessing an assault.

If you see or hear an assault in progress, intervene. But be aware that intervention can anger the abuser and escalate his behavior. Ideally, before the incident, you will have established a relationship with the victim and have discussed her intervention preferences. If you don’t know her preferences, call the police.

We’re using the pronoun “she” to represent the victim, but domestic abuse occurs across all genders and sexualities.

If you or someone you know is being abused, contact Project DVORA, (206) 861-3159. Read more about identifying domestic abuse here.

Birnbaum.VBy Jenelle Birnbaum
Violinist, hiker and all-around arts nerd Jenelle Birnbaum was the Marketing Coordinator at JFS. Outside of that, she enjoys speaking French and vegan cooking.


Photo by Binny V A.

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