Often people feel like it is not their place to offer help if they recognize that abuse is occurring in the intimate relationship of a friend or family member. If you are concerned that someone you know might be experiencing abuse, it is completely okay to express your concern, name what you’re noticing, and ask if there is anything you can do to help.
For example, you may want to ask: “are you afraid?” Name specific actions; e.g. “it looks like you’re not able to make your own choices about what you wear.” You do not need to label what you see as abuse with the person for whom you are concerned. Sometimes using this language causes people to recoil and as they may not be comfortable thinking about what they are experiencing as abuse.
If someone discloses to you that they are being controlled or abused by their partner it likely means that they see you as a safe and trustworthy person. Honour and acknowledge the courage it took to disclose what for most feels like extremely vulnerable and risky information to share.
These are the most supportive things you can do:
- Listen non-judgementally, assure them that the abuse is not their fault.
- Remember that the person experiencing abuse is the expert in their situation. Rather than respond with what you think the person should do, remember that the dynamics of an abusive relationship are complex and there is no “right” thing for the person do. . Empower them to make their own choices.
- Offer to help create a safety plan.
- Refer them to an agency with further resources and staff trained in helping victims of abuse.
- Rather than assume you know what the person needs, ask them! “Is there anything I can do to help you?” “What would be helpful?”
- Sometimes when people are overwhelmed by their situation or in crisis in can be helpful to list various options of ways you could help them find support. For example, “Would you find it helpful to talk to a counsellor?”
- Respect confidentiality and privacy. It’s up to the individual who they want to tell and if they want to make a police report. Ask them if they want you to tell anyone else. Never confront an abusive partner on behalf of a victim unless they ask you to do so.
- If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call the police.