Originally published in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pamela-jacobs/5-ways-to-help-someone-wh_b_6064438.html)
At least one in four women will be abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in her life. Abuse often start off subtle, with jealousy and isolation, but can soon escalate to threatening, controlling, and physically hurting. You may have recognized these warning signs in your friend’s or loved one’s relationship. It can be frightening to realize that someone you love may be in danger, and it can often make us feel very helpless. But, there are ways you can help.
- Tell her you are worried about her. When said with compassion, and without judgment, this statement lets your friend know that you care, and may also help her feel less alone. Abuse causes immense isolation, and it’s possible you may be the only person she is able to talk to. She may also be starting to question, and be concerned about, some of her partner’s behaviors. Letting her know that you are worried shows that she isn’t just imagining it – as the abuser would like her to believe – and that someone else is actually concerned about her safety, too.
- Ask about she wants. Too often, we try to “help” by telling someone who is being abused what she should do. But, trying to make decisions for her is exactly what her partner is doing – she doesn’t need this type of control from friends and family. Asking about what she would like to see happen puts power back into her hands. Again, this question should be offered without judgment, and we must be willing to accept any answer, including that she wants to stay and work on the relationship. If that answer worries you, it is alright to let her know that you are concerned about her safety – but stay supportive.
- Offer to call an advocacy program for her, or with her. People often think that domestic violence programs only offer emergency shelter, which can be intimidating to someone who may not be ready to leave. But, the fact is that shelters not only offer a safe place to stay, they also offer assistance with employment, housing, and parenting resources. Plus, they have advocates who are available to talk with your friend, believe her, support her, and help her plan for her next steps – whatever she may decide. Simply having another caring person on her side, in addition to you, can help her feel more secure and able to move forward. To reach your local advocacy program, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
- Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. Abusers usually blame the victim for the abuse. If she’s heard this over and over, it’s very likely your friend may be blaming herself, too. She is probably feeling a lot of shame and confusion, and wondering what she could have done differently. Listen to her, and try to understand her confusion.. But, let her know that it does not matter what she did, or didn’t do; no one has a right to hurt, scare, or control her. There is never a justification for abuse, and it is never ever the victim’s fault.
- Be there to support her, no matter what they decide. Too often, our message is, “I’m here for you, if you leave.” But, if we truly care about someone, we don’t put conditions on our support or friendship. By doing so, we are contributing to the shame and isolation that victims feel. A victim will often receive support the first few times she reaches out for help, but after a while, we get frustrated and start backing away. At that point, the abuser has won. The victim is now further isolated, feels even more ashamed, and is much less likely to reach out for help again. At that point, she is in more danger than ever before. So, make sure your friend knows you support her, and you will continue to do so – unconditionally.