A friend, family member, neighbour, ... is experiencing violence

Is somebody you know and care about experiencing abuse? Do you have an uneasy feeling about a friend's or family member's partner and the way he is treating her?

It is wonderful that your friend/family member has someone in their life who wants them to be safe. However, remember:

  • You are not responsible for your friend’s/family member’s actions and you cannot control what she does.
  • Trying to make her leave her abusive partner against her will might make her feel anxious, under pressure, like she is disappointing you by staying with him and could lead to you being excluded from her life.
  • You must stay safe to ensure other’s safety. Do not intervene in dangerous situations. Instead, call the police or other relevant authorities.

If you are from a community that experiences discrimination from police or state authorities and don’t want to call them, you could also try contacting somebody who you know has the respect/power to resolve the situation without causing more harm and will not automatically take the perpetrators side.

How do you recognise abuse?

Here are some warning signs that can point to domestic violence:

  • She is apologetic and makes excuses for his behaviour or she becomes aggressive and angry.
  • She is nervous talking when he’s there.
  • She seems to be sick more often and misses work.
  • She tries to cover her bruises.
  • She makes excuses at the last minute about why she can’t meet you or she tries to avoid you on the street.
  • She seems sad, lonely, withdrawn and is afraid.
  • She uses drugs or alcohol to cope.

(source: NFF)

If you witness disrespectful, threatening and dominating behaviour, and/or your friend/family member is being increasingly isolated from her social circle you have a right to be worried. Additionally, there are certain contexts, which could make the situation particularly dangerous. Remember that it is ok to contact the police if you feel your friend/family member is in danger. Domestic violence is not a private matter, it is a systemic violation of human rights and your decision to call the police could save a life.

How do you help somebody experiencing abuse?

You can support someone experiencing domestic violence by doing some of the following things:

  • Be direct. Start by saying something like, ‘I’m worried about you because…’ or ‘I’m concerned about your safety…’
  • 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.
  • Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and very difficult situation.
  • Tell her that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she does or says justifies the abuser’s behaviour.
  • Encourage her to express her feelings, whatever they are. Allow her to make her own decisions.
  • Focus on supporting her and building up her confidence – acknowledge her strengths and remind her that she is coping well in a challenging and stressful situation.
  • Don’t tell her to leave the relationship if she is not ready to do this. This is her decision.
  • Ask if she has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or to see her doctor.
  • Abusers often isolate women from friends and family – help her to develop or keep up her outside contacts. This will help boost her self-esteem.
  • 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 abused women and their children. Explore the available options with her.
  • Go with her to visit a lawyer if she is ready to take this step.
  • Discuss safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship.
  • 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 your friend the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell her you will look after an emergency bag for her, if she wants this.
  • Look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. 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.
  • Be patient. Leaving an abusive partner is a process. It can take time for a woman to recognise she is being abused and even longer to make decisions about what to do. Recognising the problem is an important first step.

(sources: Women's Aid, Refuge)

What is my role?

While a good support system is invaluable to women in abusive relationships, you are not responsible for “solving” the abusive situation or “saving” the person experiencing abuse. The above graphic from the Neighbours, Friends and Family Campaign shows your limits, chances and choices as a bystander of domestic abuse

What are available resources

Understanding domestic violence

You might want to learn more about domestic violence in general, or the specific types of domestic abuse or you might be asking yourself “Why doesn’t she just leave?” (answer, answer, answer). A great way of understanding what is happening, as well as a resource you might want to share with your friend/family member is Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That?”.

Victim support services

If you are living in Europe, the easiest way to find local support services is to visit the WAVE service database, if you are unable to find a service in your country, don’t hesitate to get directly in touch with WAVE or with an organisation from a neighbouring country. If you are not living in Europe, try searching online for a domestic violence survivor service or national domestic violence hotline. It makes perfect sense to contact these services even if you are not the person experiencing abuse. They are the experts on what is happening and will be able to support you in helping your friend/family member.

Safety planning

Safety planning means exactly that – planning to stay safe and/or planning to leave an abusive relationship safely. During and shortly after separation, your friend/family member is in the most danger of experiencing extreme harassment, violence or even being killed by her partner. Refuge have some good advice on safety and NFF has detailed information on staying safe before, during and after leaving an abusive relationship.

Legal context

One way of ensuring your friend or loved one understands her rights is for you to understand them and to tell her when you know that her partner’s behaviour is a violation of your country’s laws. On an EU level, you can inform yourself via the EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality) website, on a national level it makes the most sense to either google what you are searching for or contacting local women's rights organisations - many victim support services also offer legal counselling (for contacts check out "victim support services" above).