How can I help?
It's not easy to know how to support a friend who is experiencing domestic violence, but you can make a difference.
If you have spotted any of the signs of domestic violence, the next step is to reach out and support your friend. For many women, talking to someone can be the first step towards safety. Once things are out in the open your friend may be able to see her situation more clearly. Talking about her experiences can make her feel stronger and less overwhelmed.
If your friend is experiencing domestic violence she may be feeling very alone. She might feel there is no help available. This is why it's so important for you to listen and offer non-judgemental support.
Should I get involved?
You may worry about whether you should offer support or not. Many people believe that domestic violence is a private matter, to be dealt with behind closed doors. But the reality is that domestic violence is a crime that will affect one woman in four at some point in her life. We all have a duty to break the silence and speak out against domestic violence.
However, remember that intervening and getting between your friend and her partner can be dangerous – for both you and her. As well as offering a listening ear, you can encourage her to contact Refuge for confidential, specialist support.
He seems like such a nice guy. How can I believe her?
An abuser often puts on a very charming face to the outside world, but behind closed doors he is controlling and unpredictable. He readily switches his behaviour - much like the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character.
Is emotional abuse really that serious?
Domestic violence becomes more frequent and more severe over time. What starts out as emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse. In the most extreme cases, it can end in murder. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging, if not more damaging than physical abuse. It can have serious effects on your friend's emotional and physical well-being.
What is she doing to make him angry?
Many abusers use blame to make the woman feel she deserves what is happening to her. But the reality is that violence is a choice an abuser makes and he alone is responsible for it. A man is not entitled to hit his partner.
If it's really that bad, why doesn't she leave?
Leaving a violent partner takes a great deal of courage. On average it takes a woman seven attempts to leave before she makes the final break. She may feel too scared - her abuser may have threatened to harm her and her children if she tries to leave. He may have convinced her the abuse is her fault - that she deserves no better. He may be controlling her money, so she may be worried about how she will cope financially. She may simply not realise that there is help available.
Wouldn't she ask for my help if she wanted it?
There are many things that may be stopping your friend from seeking help. She may be afraid. Or she may feel ashamed and think that no-one will believe her. You can help break her isolation and encourage her to reach out and get support.
How can I talk to her?
If you have spotted any of the signs of domestic violence, the next step is to reach out and support your friend. It might be helpful to remember the following:
- Try to create a safe environment for her to talk to you about what's happening. She needs to know that you won't judge her. Only then will she feel safe enough to open up.
- Remember that her partner may be monitoring phone calls, texts, emails and Facebook messages, so meet in person if you can.
- Give her time. You may have to try several times before she will confide in you. Be patient – 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 the first step.
- Tell her openly that you are worried about her. For example: "You haven't seemed yourself lately. Is there anything you want to talk about? Is everything OK at home?"
- Listen to her. Believe her. All too often, people do not believe a woman when she first discloses abuse.
- Tell her that the abuse is not her fault. Many women who experience domestic violence blame themselves. But the truth is that violence is a choice – only the abuser is responsible.
- Remind her that she's not alone. If her abuser has isolated her from friends and family, she could be feeling very lonely. Tell her that you are there for her, and that there are solutions.
- Build up her confidence. Tell her she is incredibly strong and resilient for coping with what is happening. Focus on her strengths.
- Encourage her to break her isolation. Building up her support networks may help her feel stronger and less isolated.
- Remember – don't try to be the expert and don't judge her for her choices. You can support your friend by listening to her, believing her, encouraging her and reassuring her, but it is important that she contacts Refuge for specialist support.
- If she tells you she is scared of her partner, tell her about Refuge www.refuge.org.uk
- If she says she is in danger, explain that domestic violence is against the law and the police can and should help her. It could save her life.
- Encourage her to visit www.refuge.org.uk for more information and support
- Let her know about the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Refuge and Women's Aid) - 0808 2000 247
- And remember - in an emergency, call 999
But try not to do the following:
- Don't tell her what to do. Encourage her to make decisions at her own pace. It is important that she regains control over her own life, however slow that process may be. Remember that her partner is controlling her - the last thing she needs is for her friends or family to do the same.
- Don't tell her to leave her partner. Although you may be worried about her, she has to make that decision in her own time. It's natural to want your friend to be safe, but don't get frustrated if she doesn't make any decisions straight away. Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a woman. Most domestic violence murders happen when a woman has just left her partner or when she is in the process of trying to leave her partner.
- Avoid criticising her partner. This may make her feel embarrassed for staying with him, and less comfortable about talking to you.
Be patient with her and let her know you’re there. Don’t judge her. Leaving is a process. It takes time for a woman to regain control of her life. Remind her that support is available when she is ready.
Practical things you can do to help:
There are simple ways to help your friend to stay safe.
- Offer to keep a spare set of keys, important documents and some cash, in case she needs to leave in a hurry.
- If you are her manager or colleague, you can find more information about how to support a victim of domestic violence in the workplace in Refuge and Respect's Domestic Violence Resource Manual for Employers.
- Provide her with information about local specialist domestic violence support - find out more about where she can receive help.
- Agree a code word you can use if she is in serious danger and needs you to call the police.
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What if my friend is an abuser?
- If you're worried that a friend may be abusing their partner, you may feel a mix of emotions. While you may be worried about where your loyalty should lie, you should try to keep the safety of the victim as your main priority. For more information, please visit: http://www.respectphoneline.org.uk/data/files/ff_of_perpetrators_leaflet.pdf
Know the signs
There's no simple way to know whether your friend is experiencing domestic violence, but there are signs that you can look out for.More
Know the facts
Domestic violence is not about a row “going wrong” or someone “losing control”. On the contrary, domestic violence is all about control.More