What might your friend/family member work colleague be feeling and experiencing?
An abused woman is often overwhelmed by fear, which can govern her every move;
A fear of further violence, the unknown, her safety and the safety of her children.
Do not underestimate the effects of fear.
She often believes that she is at fault and that by changing her behaviour the abuse will stop. Research shows that this is not the case.
She may experience a conflict of emotions. She may love her partner, but hate the violence and abuse.
She may live in hope that his good side will reappear.
She may be dependent upon her partner, emotionally and financially.
She may experience feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.
She may feel resigned and hopeless and find it hard to make decisions about her future.
She may feel resigned that she has no other choice but to stay.
How your help can make a difference
The way you respond to someone experiencing domestic and family violence is very important and can make a real difference.
They may feel stronger if your response supports and encourages them to talk about the situation.
It could make them feel more able to explore their options and make decisions.
Your friend or family member may not be aware that what they are experiencing is domestic and family violence and that it is illegal.
Your friend or family member may deny there is a problem, they may reject your support or become defensive.
They may be fearful of letting you know or reluctant to tell you about the abuse because they don’t want you to worry about them.
But your support and words may just make them think and reflect on what’s happening to them.
Keep in mind that:
Domestic violence is a crime – it is unacceptable.
Domestic violence is very common. One woman in six experiences domestic violence at some point in her life and an abused woman may live with domestic violence for years before she tells anyone or seeks help.
Domestic violence is very dangerous.
All women and children have the right to live without fear, violence and abuse.
The abuser is solely responsible for their abusive behaviour.
The woman is not to blame; violence is a choice an abuser makes.
The way you respond to someone experiencing domestic and family violence is very important and can make a real difference.
How to raise the issue
Unless you are trying to help someone who has been very open about their experiences it may be difficult for you to acknowledge the problem directly.
However, there are some basic steps that you can take to assist and give support to a friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or anyone you know who confides in you that they are experiencing domestic abuse.
You shouldn’t wait for her to tell you about her situation.
Bring up the subject yourself when her abusive partner isn’t around.
Tell her you are concerned about her and want to help.
Do not to criticise the relationship, or her partner.
Focus on the abuse and her/children’s safety.
Listen to what she says and let her show you how you can be supportive.
The importance of helping her break the silence and end the isolation should never be under estimated.
You may not have all the immediate answers but you can listen and help find further help and support together.
Support her in whatever decision she makes about her relationship, while being clear that the abuse is wrong.
It’s okay to give your opinion, but keep in mind she needs to be supported, not judged.
Maintain contact with her, and help her to explore all the options on offer.
It can be a huge challenge to support a friend/family member in this way. Of course you don’t want to see her get hurt, but you may have to watch her continue her relationship with her abusive partner when you think she should leave him or have him arrested.
Be her friend, make sure you offer and do not display the same behaviour as her abuser. For example, if he tells her what to do all the time, it’s won’t be helpful if you to do the same, even if you have her best interests at heart.
Be prepared, supporting your friend may seem quite frustrating and worrying; she may not take the course of action that you favour.
You may find yourself wondering why she stays or how she goes on with it or it will continue forever. However, it is important to remember three critical things:
She is the person who is most affected by the consequences of any decision regarding her relationship. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that she makes decisions in her best interests (as she sees them), rather than doing what you may want her to do.
Leaving someone is extremely difficult decision, involving both emotional and practical considerations.
Moreover, most women are in the position of trying to make this decision within the context of an abuser who may beg them to stay and promise to change. It’s not easy to leave someone even if they are not an abuser.
Leaving a violent partner often only signifies the end of the relationship...
Not the end of the violence.
Women are killed every week by a current or former male partner.
Of these, most were in the process of attempting to leave a violent relationship, or had recently left one.
If you are offering help to a friend, remember that you are putting yourself in a dangerous situation; be sure to keep yourself safe.
When approaching someone experiencing domestic or family violence:
Approach them when they are alone and it is safe for them to speak.
Approach them in a sensitive, respectful and caring way, for example, by saying:
“I am worried about you because I’ve noticed you have been unhappy lately” to start the conversation.
Try to respect their decision if they do not want to talk about the domestic violence – they may be ashamed or afraid of talking about it, or they may not be ready to admit to being abused.
It can take some time for them to feel comfortable and safe to talk about their situation.
Most importantly – really listen to her.
Try to understand and take care not to blame her.
Tell her that she is not alone and that there are many women like her in the same situation. Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse.
Give her time to talk, but don’t push her to go into too much detail if she doesn’t want to.
What to say or do
Be calm and supportive. Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and in a very difficult situation.
Tell her it’s very brave for her to speak to you about what’s happening.
Tell her that no-one deserves to be intimidated, threatened or hurt, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour.
Let her know what’s happening to her is not right, it is against the law and it is not her fault.
Tell her she is not alone, domestic abuse happens to lots of other people too, lots get away from their abusers and there is help available for her.
Support her as a friend. Encourage her to express her feelings, whatever they are.
Allow her to make her own decisions and let her know you are not telling her what to do, you are just discussing options.
Don’t tell her to leave the relationship if she is not ready to do so, it is her decision.
Ask her what she wants and listen to her response – this helps you to offer the most useful information first, responding to what she says.
Ask if she has suffered physical harm and does she need medical attention. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or to see her doctor.
Help her to report the assault to the police if she chooses to do so.
Be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help to women and their children experiencing Domestic and Family Violence. Explore the available options with her. Let her know if she feels she needs somewhere safe to go, explore the available options with her.
Find out contact details of your nearest Women’s Legal Services or similar support agency, Police etc should she want them.
Remind her gently she can call the police on 000 if she’s being attacked or has been attacked and is still at risk.
Everyone has the right to Police help if they are being threatened, hurt, no matter who is hurting them.
Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship (‘making a safety plan’). Let her create her own boundaries of what she thinks is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge her to follow any strategies that she expresses doubt about.
Offer her the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and offer to look after an emergency bag for her, if she wants this.
It is important to reduce her level of isolation if possible. Explore safe ways with her you can maintain contact with her.
Finally let her know she can come back and talk to you again if she wants, no matter what she decides to do and make she know you don’t judge her.
Things you may want to try and explain
The following messages may help your friend/family member if you can get them across when talking about her situation.
Domestic abuse is completely unacceptable.
Every woman and child has the right to live a life free of violence, intimidation, abuse and fear.
One woman in six experiences domestic abuse at some point in her life. It is very common.
Domestic abuse is extremely dangerous. Each week in Australia women are killed by a partner or ex-partner.
Domestic abuse is about power and control.
It is about intimidating and scaring a woman into doing something that she doesn’t want to do, or scaring her out of doing something that she does want to do.
The abuser is the sole person responsible for the abuse.
The abuse is the abusers problem and their responsibility alone.
No woman deserves to be abused, regardless of what she says or does. It is not her fault.
Domestic abuse does impact on children. Even if they are not being directly abused themselves, children are affected.
The abuser is the only person who can put a stop to their violence.
She does not have to put up with it. She has the right to safety and respect, to put herself and her children first and to focus her own needs.
If someone is intent on being violent, she will not be able to stop them.
However, there are things she can do to increase her safety.
Things to avoid saying and doing
Don’t give up on her if she doesn’t confide in you straight away.
She may be afraid or ashamed, and may need time to feel confident enough to admit what is happening to her and to understand what she’s experiencing.
Don’t judge her choices.
It’s natural to want your friend to be safe, but don’t get frustrated if she doesn’t make any decisions straight away.
Remember that her partner is controlling her – the last thing she needs is for her friends or family to do the same.
Give her time and make sure she knows you’re there when she needs you.
Instead, ask if she has thought about what she wants to do. Tell her that there is support around her.
Avoid criticising her partner.
This may make her feel stupid for staying with him and less comfortable about talking to you – it may make her withdraw even more.
Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a woman.
Most domestic violence murders happen when a woman has just left her partner or when she is in the process of trying to leave her partner.
She will need time and space to plan her escape safely.
Her partner may have threatened to kill her and her children if she tries to leave. She may be worried about money, or where she and her children will go if they leave.
Only she will know when it is safe to leave.
Don’t give up on her if she goes back.
On average it takes a woman eight attempts to leave before she makes a final break. Remember leaving is a process which takes time.
Don’t blame her or ask judgemental questions such as;
‘What did you do to make him treat you like that?’ or ‘Why don’t you just break up with him?’
Don’t focus on trying to work out the abuser’s reasons for the abuse.
Concentrate on supporting her and discussing what she can do to protect herself.
Don’t be impatient or critical of her if she is confused about what to do, or if she says that she still loves him. It’s difficult for anyone to break up a relationship, and especially hard if they are being abused.
Don’t maintain a friendship with both the victim and the abuser.
This part is hard for a lot of people, but the truth is that if you try to support both parties, you’re not going to be much help to either. She needs to be able to talk to someone who believes her, who will not pressure her to ‘see it from the other person’s point of view’, and who would never encourage her to get back together with the abuser. Placing yourself in the position of investigator or mediator is not going to help the situation.
Agree a code word or action that your friend can use to signal that she is in danger and cannot access help herself
Offer to keep copies of important documents and other items for her so that if she has to leave in a hurry, she won’t have to waste time collecting important belongings
Find out information about local services and help, together or on your own.
Offer any help you are comfortable giving, like the use of your telephone or address for information or messages, keeping spare sets of keys/overnight bags/important documents for emergencies.
Encourage and help her to make a safety plan. This plan may include you. Help her think about a plan of action should her abuser become violent again. Suggest that she have an ‘escape bag’ somewhere which could include an extra set of car keys, ID documents, birth certificates ect. in case she needs them.
Looking after yourself too
Supporting someone who is experiencing domestic violence can be extremely difficult. Here are some things to consider:
Be realistic and clear on how much and what type of support you can give, with your friend and with yourself.
Remember that your support, whether you see it or not, is very valuable.
Look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Be kind to yourself you may not be able to make a difference right now but you may be able to in the future.
Ensure that you do not put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, do not offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.
Most importantly, don’t give up on your friend or family member. You might be their only lifeline.
Why your friend or family member might be staying in an abusive relationship and situation
Do not expect that your friend or family member will leave the abusive relationship. It is only natural to wonder why they don’t leave and how they can say that they still love their abusive partner. Ending any relationship is difficult. Ending a relationship where there is domestic and family violence can be extremely frightening.
There are many reasons why it may be hard for your friend or family member to leave:
Their partner may have threatened them by saying that they will harm them, their children, their family, other family members, pets and themselves if they leave
They may hope that their partner will go back to how they behaved at the beginning of the relationship
Their partner may keep promising to ‘change’
They may think the abuse is their fault and that if they change, the domestic violence will stop
They may make excuses for the abuse their partner inflicts on them like they had a difficult childhood, they can’t control their emotions, they are ill or just get drunk and so on.
They may be committed to the relationship or believe that marriage is forever whatever the consequences
They may believe that their children need to live with both parents and may downplay the impact of living with domestic and family violence on themselves and their children
They may be experiencing pressure from family, friends, colleagues or their community to stay with the abusive person
They may be worried about where they will live and how they will manage financially
They may not speak English well or understand the law about domestic and family violence
If the abusive person is their carer, they may be afraid that no one else will be available to care for them and they will be left to cope by themselves
They may be afraid of coping by themselves, especially if their self esteem has been damaged by the abuse