If you know or suspect that someone is a victim of domestic violence, you may be unsure of the most effective method to assist them. Don’t let the fear of saying something inappropriate prevent you from reaching out. Waiting for the ideal words could prevent you from embracing a life-changing opportunity.
For many victims of domestic violence, the world can be lonely, isolating, and filled with dread. Occasionally, extending a hand and letting them know you are there for them can provide tremendous solace.
Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates if you or a loved one has been a victim of domestic violence.
Visit our National Helpline Database for more mental health resources.
How to Assist a Domestic Violence Victim
Use the following nine guidelines to assist you in assisting someone in this vulnerable situation.
Spend time with them
If you choose to reach out to a victim of abuse, do so during a time of peace. Getting involved when tensions are high can be dangerous. Also, be sure to reserve ample time if the victim decides to open up. If the person decides to reveal years of pent-up fear and anger, you will not want to terminate the conversation because you have another engagement.
Engage in Conversation
You can broach the subject of domestic violence by saying, “I’m worried about you because…” or “I’m concerned about your safety…” or “I’ve noticed changes in your behavior that concern me.”
Perhaps you’ve observed the individual wearing garments to conceal bruises, or you’ve observed that the individual has become unusually quiet and reclusive. Both may be indicators of maltreatment.
Inform the individual that you will maintain confidentiality regarding any information disclosed. Do not attempt to coerce the individual into opening up; allow the conversation to develop naturally.
Take it leisurely and slowly. Simply let the individual know that you are available and willing to listen.
Listen Without Judgment
If the person does decide to speak, you should listen without passing judgment or offering advice or solutions. If you actively attend, the person will likely tell you precisely what they require. Just allow the individual ample time to speak.
You can ask clarifying inquiries, but you should primarily allow the individual to express their emotions and fears. You might be the first person the victim has confided in.
Discover the Warning Signs
Understanding the warning signs of domestic abuse can help you assist those who attempt to conceal abuse for a variety of reasons.
- Black irises
- cracked lips
- Marks of red or purple on the neck
- Ruptured forearms
- Arms bearing bruising
- Low self-esteem
- Overly contrite or humble
- alterations in napping or eating habits
- Nervous or tense
- Substance mistreatment
- the signs and symptoms of melancholy
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies formerly relished
- Discussing suicide
- Becoming reclusive or aloof
- Canceling meetings or appointments at the last minute
- Being frequently late
- Excessive discretion regarding their private affairs
- Excluding themselves from family and acquaintances
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Dial 911 if you or a loved one are in imminent peril.
Believe victims of domestic violence
Because domestic violence is more about control than anger, the victim is frequently the only one who witnesses the perpetrator’s dark side. Frequently, others are surprised to discover that a person they know could be violent.
As a result, victims frequently believe that no one would believe them if they disclosed the violence. Believe the victim’s account and state as much. For a victim, eventually having someone who understands their struggles can provide a sense of relief and hope.
Provide the victim with these guarantees:
- I believe you
- You are not at fault
- You do not merit this.
Recognize the Victim’s Emotions
It is common for victims to express contradictory emotions regarding their companion and their situation. These emotions can vary from:
- Regret and Rage
- Hope and Despair
- Fear and Love
If you wish to be of assistance, you must validate her feelings by reassuring her that having these contradictory thoughts is normal. But it is also essential that you affirm that violence is unacceptable and that living in fear of physical assault is not normal.
Some victims may not recognize the abnormality of their situation because they have no alternative relationship models and have become habituated to the cycle of violence. Communicate to the victim that violence and abuse are not components of healthy relationships. Confirm to them without judgment that their situation is hazardous and that you are concerned for their safety.
Motives Why Victims Remain
It can be difficult to comprehend why a loved one would choose to remain in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship. Several factors make it difficult to part ways
- Fear of peril should they depart
- They continue to adore their partner and have faith that they will change
- Their companion pledged to alter.
- A firm conviction that marriage is “for better or for worse”
- Considering the abuse of their responsibility
- Being present for the children
- Lack of self-assurance
- Fear of solitude or seclusion
- Lack of resources (job, money, transportation) to support oneself
Offer Personalized Assistance to Your Loved One
Assist the victim in locating assistance and resources. Find contact information for shelters, social services, attorneys, counselors, and support groups. If available, distribute literature about domestic violence.
You should also assist them in obtaining information regarding protective orders, restraining orders, and child custody.
If the victim requests a specific action and you are willing to perform it, do not hesitate to assist.
If you are unable to meet the need, look for alternative solutions. Identify their strengths and assets and assist them in developing and expanding them for they to find the motivation to assist themselves.
The most essential thing is to let them know you are always available for them. Simply inform them of the best means to contact you if assistance is required. If feasible, offer to accompany the individual to the police, court, or attorney’s office for moral support.
Inform the individual that they are not alone and assistance is available. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate assistance and referrals to local counseling services and support groups.
Help Establish a Safety Plan
Assist the victim in developing a safety plan that can be implemented if further violence occurs or if they decide to flee the situation. The mere act of creating a plan can help them visualize the necessary actions and mentally prepare to take them.
Because victims who abandon abusive partners are at a higher risk of being murdered by their abusers than those who remain, it is crucial that victims have a personalized safety plan before a crisis occurs or they decide to leave.3
Assist the victim in considering each step of the safety plan, weighing the risks and benefits of each alternative, and identifying methods to mitigate the risks.
Ensure the following are included in the safety plan:
- A place to go in the event of an emergency or if they elect to leave their home.
- A prepared reason to depart if the individual feels threatened.
- A code word to alert loved ones that assistance is required.
- A crisis-accessible “escape bag” containing cash, essential documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.), keys, toiletries, and a change of clothes.
- A list of emergency contacts, including trusted family members and acquaintances, local shelters, and a domestic violence hotline.
How perilous is the circumstance? Take the Risk Evaluation Test to find out.
What to Avoid
Although there is no right or wrong method to assist a victim of domestic violence, you should avoid actions that will exacerbate the situation. Here are some “don’ts” recommended by experts:
- Bash the offender. Focus on the behavior and not the individual’s personality.
- Put the victim at fault. This is what the perpetrator does.
- Underestimate the potential peril to yourself and the victim.
- You should not offer assistance that you cannot deliver.
- Give conditional support.
- Do whatever you can to provoke the abuser.
- The pressure is applied to the victim.
- Don’t give up. Be patient if they initially refuse to communicate.
- Make life as onerous as possible for the victim.
When to Call the Police in Cases of Domestic Abuse
If you are aware of an ongoing violent incident, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Call the police if you hear or see physical abuse taking place. The police are the most effective means of removing the victim and their children from imminent danger.
In no circumstances should infants be left in a violent environment. Do whatever is required to ensure their safety, even if it means going against the victim’s or the abuser’s wishes.
In situations of active violence, contacting child protective services is not the problem; rather, it is part of the solution.