Knowing or thinking that someone you care about is in a violent relationship can be very hard. You may fear for their safety — and maybe for good reason. You may want to rescue them or insist they leave, but every adult must make their own decisions.
Each situation is different, and the people involved are all different too. Here are some ways to help a loved one who is being abused:
- Set up a time to talk. Try to make sure you have privacy and won’t be distracted or interrupted. Visit your loved one in person if possible.
- Let them know you’re concerned about their safety. Be honest. Tell them about times when you were worried about them. Help them see that abuse is wrong. They may not respond right away, or they may even get defensive or deny the abuse. Let them know you want to help and will be there to support whatever decision they make.
- Be supportive. Listen to your loved one. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for them to talk about the abuse. Tell them that they are not alone and that people want to help. If they want help, ask them what you can do.
- Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help them with child care, or to provide transportation, for example.
- Don’t place shame, blame, or guilt on them. Don’t say, “You just need to leave.” Instead, say something like, “I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.” Tell them you understand that their situation is very difficult.
- Help make a safety plan. Safety planning might include packing important items and helping them find a “safe” word. This code word can be used to let you know they are in danger without an abuser knowing. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet if they have to leave in a hurry.
- Encourage them to talk to someone who can help. Offer to help find a local domestic violence agency. Offer to go with them to the agency, the police, or court. The National Domestic Violence Hotline , 800-799-SAFE (7233); the National Sexual Assault Hotline , 800-656-HOPE (4673); and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline , 866-331-9474, are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can offer advice based on experience and can help find local support and services.
- If they decide to stay, continue to be supportive. They may decide to stay in the relationship, or they may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what they decide to do.
- Encourage them to do things outside of the relationship. It’s important for them to see friends and family.
- If they decide to leave, continue to offer help. Even though the relationship was abusive, they may feel sad and lonely once it is over. They may also need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
- Let them know that you will always be there no matter what. It can be very frustrating to see a friend or loved one stay in an abusive relationship. But if you end your relationship, they have one less safe place to go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave a relationship, but you can let them know you’ll help, whatever they decide to do.