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How Can You Help A Loved One?
Suspecting or knowing that a friend or family member is being abused can be especially difficult for loved ones. Most victims of domestic and sexual violence feel very alone and confused as a result of the abuse. Victims often feel they have nowhere to turn – they may worry no one will believe them, they may blame themselves for the abuse, and they may fear their abuser will hurt them, their children, or their pets if they reveal the abuse to anyone outside their home.
You can take steps to help. If this situation is occurring in your life, you may question some of the victim’s choices. To really be helpful, the victim needs to see you as someone who cares for them no matter what – not someone who cares for them only if they do what you want them to do (which is the victim’s experience with the abuser).
So what can you do?
Approach the other person at a time and place that is safe and confidential.
Start by expressing concern (i.e., “I am concerned someone may be hurting you, and I am worried about your safety.”)
Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation; be supportive and listen. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that help and support are out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
Be non-judgmental. No one knows exactly what the victim has experienced and the toll it has taken on her – physically, mentally, emotionally – except the victim. Respect the victim’s decisions. Victims have many reasons why they stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. They are trying to survive. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
If they 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 will need time to heal and to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family. 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. Remember that you can call SWiC’s hotline (570.622.3991 or 800.282.0634) to find information on staying safe.
Be patient. Self-empowerment may take longer than you want. Go at the victim’s pace, not yours.
Help them develop a safety plan. Check on SWiC’s information on creating a safety plan for wherever they are in their relationship — whether they’re choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or have already left. Call SWiC for safety planning and more information and encourage the victim to call (570.622.3991 or 800.282.0634).
Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. SWiC can help victims be safe, heal, and regain the parts of themselves that have been lost or put aside while they focused on survival. Check out more information about SWiC’s services. A good place to start is SWiC’s 24-hour hotline at 570.622.3991 or 800.282.0634. Perhaps you can offer to go along for moral support to SWiC appointments, police, court or lawyer’s office, or other service.
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. Your support for them no matter what will show them that they are loved and lovable and help them find a way to safety and peace.
SWiC also provides services to significant others (loved ones) of victims, even if the victim has not yet sought SWiC services. Loved ones of victims may benefit from calling SWiC’s hotline and making a counseling appointment for their own support and encouragement. All services are free and confidential.