Domestic violence is sadly something that victims often suffer through alone. Many people who face domestic violence are either too afraid or too ashamed to come forward and ask for help. In addition, abusers often do everything in their power to isolate their victims and undermine their relationships with friends and family so that they have nobody in their life to turn to for support.
When you suspect that someone you care about is being victimized, it is often difficult to know how to proceed. You don’t want to say something out of turn if you are wrong about the abuse. You might also worry that even if you are right, the victim might be in deep enough denial that they lash out at you for suggesting that there is a problem.
When looking to help a victim of abuse, here are some tips to help you help them.
Learn the Warning Signs
There are many signs of domestic violence that you should learn to spot so that you can help someone you know if they are suffering. These signs can be physical, emotional, or behavioral. Learn to recognize the red flags so that you can offer support when needed.
Start the Conversation
The first step is often the most difficult when attempting to support a victim of domestic abuse. It can be an awkward subject to approach. Depending on the temperament of the person you are trying to help, you may worry that you will inadvertently put them in a position where they push you away. Doing so could end up leaving themselves further isolated in their abuse.
It is essential to look for the right moment to bring up the subject, but at the same time, you can’t wait forever. The perfect moment will never come because there is no perfect moment when it comes to something so horrific. Simply try to find a time where the two of you are both calm. Broaching the subject when tempers are high, and your loved one is agitated, is likely to result in them feeling antagonized and lashing out.
It is also best to begin the conversation when it is just the two of you or possibly one other person if you are a close group of three. Involving too many people in the initial conversation is likely to make the victim feel like they are cornered. Victims of abuse need to feel as comfortable as possible in this situation in order to open up properly.
Don’t push too hard with the conversation, and let them know that you will be discreet. Do not talk about calling the cops on their abuser. You may very well end up doing that eventually, but that is not the point where you should begin. Voice that you are concerned about their safety and ensure that they know they can open up to you. You are just there as a sounding board at the beginning.
If you can get the person to open up about their experience, just go ahead and let them talk. When needed, you can ask clarifying questions, but you should primarily sit back and let them speak. This is not the time for advice or judgment. There is no such thing as constructive criticism at this point. The person simply needs someone to talk to without worry.
Being an open, active listener will likely result in the person fully opening up to you without holding things back.
Show the Victim That You Believe What They Are Telling You
Many abusers seem perfectly lovely to outside observers. There are angry abusers out there who are just all-around mean and can be spotted by anyone. However, there are also plenty of abusers who operate from a need to control. These perpetrators of abuse will only reveal their true nature to their victims. By the two-faced approach, they make it so that their victims fear they won’t be believed.
When a victim only hears about how great their partner seems from others, they fear that those people won’t believe them if they tell the truth about their partner’s dark nature. When someone tells you they are being abused, you need to believe them and tell them so.
Most people don’t fake abuse, and the small minority who do, typically only do so in very specific circumstances, such as in a legal battle. Always assume you are being told the truth when it comes to abuse.
Let the victim know that not only do you believe them, but assure them that they do not deserve the abuse and that it is not their fault. Be sure to validate all of the victim’s feelings even if they are contradictory. Victims often still have feelings of love for their abusers. Those feelings may seem wrong, but they are common, and should not be dismissed.
Help the Victim Find Support
There are many resources out there for victims of abuse. When the victim is ready, help them to get in touch with these organizations. Leaving an abusive relationship can be a difficult and frightening thing. Speaking with professionals about the best way to move forward to extricate the victim safely from the situation is critical.
While you may want to get the victim out of the negative environment immediately, pressuring them to move too quickly could backfire. Too much pressure may cause them to retreat back into the abusive relationship.
Call the Police
While you shouldn’t rush a victim in general, if you are a witness to violence actively occurring, then call 9-1-1 immediately. Domestic abuse situations eventually end in death far too often. Any occurrence could be the last.
The best way to end domestic violence in our society is through awareness. There are too many victims out there who remain silent. We need to do a better job as a society of believing victims so that they are more likely to open up. The more that people share their stories of abuse, the more people will feel comfortable coming forward with their own stories.