How to Support a Victim of Domestic Violence

From the outside looking in, it's easy to wonder why women who are being abused "don't just leave". 

If you've ever been abused or have ever known someone in an abusive relationship, you'd know that it's not always that simple. Many victims fear that if they decide to leave, their abuser will retaliate in some way. In many cases, exit strategies have to be carefully calculated. Other victims escape after violent episodes that leave them badly beaten. No two abusive relationships are exactly alike. Even after leaving, many victims return to the relationship.

The average domestic violence victim will leave and return to their abuser 7 times. This can cause great emotional strain on friends and family members of the victim. In many domestic violence cases, loved ones of the victim will offer support. Sometimes, the victim takes the help. In many cases, the victim denies that there is even a problem. For friends and family members of the victim, it can be difficult to maintain an unwavering support for the victim, as many abusive relationships are unpredictable. 

Whether you are a grandmother, son, cousin, aunt or friend, you can make a difference in the victim's life. Whether or not you choose to have a positive presence in their life is up to you. Victims of domestic violence need unconditional love and an unwavering support system. Here are a few ways to identify abuse and offer support to your loved one.

Know the Signs

Abuse is not always easy to spot. Many abusers paint an illusion of the relationship. Most people don't even realize their loved one is being abused. If you suspect that someone you love is experiencing abuse, you've probably notice a few of these warning signs:

  • Changes in personality. They are depressed or anxious
  • Isolation. They've stopped spending time with friends and family.
  • Unexplained marks and injuries
  • Their partner is jealous or possessive
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • Their partner belittles them in front of other people
  • They make excuses for their partner's behavior

Remember, there are many forms of domestic violence - emotional, mental, spiritual, psychological and physical. All are about power and control. One of the worst things you can do as a supporter is give orders or demand ultimatums.

10 Blessings founder, Natasha T. Brown, said, "The worst thing you can do is give them an ultimatum. The worst thing you can do is try to control them. They're going to rebel against you because they already feel like they're being controlled. You have to be very nourishing and activate the highest extent of grace that you can find deep within your heart and your soul."

Think about ways to encourage and empower them to make their own decisions. There will be times when you get frustrated but the key to healthy and effective support is consistency and understanding. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a few ways you can help someone suffering abuse:

Acknowledge that they are in a difficult situation. LISTEN.

Let them know the abuse isn't their fault, let them know you are available whenever they need you and listen to them. Listen first to understand them. Not to respond and offer input.

Be NON-JUDGMENTAL

Don't tell them what "you would do" and never criticize their decisions. While it's okay to tell the truth about the relationship and try to put things in perspective for them,  respect their decisions. You may not like or support the decision but you must remain supportive of your loved one. Be there regardless of how many times he or she returns to the relationship.

Help them develop a SAFETY PLAN

Whether your loved one has already left the abusive relationship, is planning to leave or is still in an abusive relationship, it's important that they have a safety plan. Help them to develop a plan that will give them physical safety as well as prepare them to live financially independent of their abusers. Remember, if your friend or family member returns to their abuser, it may be necessary to develop a different safety plan than the one  previously used. Make sure the abuser doesn't know where you live.

Encourage them to seek HELP & GUIDANCE

Although your are a supportive friend or family member with a receptive heart and a listening ear, it's good to encourage your loved one to talk to someone who can offer professional help/guidance. The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. The hotline can give you a list of supportive programs in your area. Offer to accompany the victim to a program or to the police, court, etc.

Please remember that no matter how much it hurts you to see someone you love suffering abuse, you cannot make decisions for that person. No matter how much you feel the victim should leave for good, the decision is entirely up to the victim. It is important for you to maintain a consistent and unwavering love and support of the individual, not the situation.

Assisting teens and coworkers who may be experiencing domestic violence requires alternative approaches. 

Visit www.thehotline.org for more information and tips on how to support teens and coworkers.