Watching someone endure an abusive situation can be difficult under any circumstances, and it’s not always clear how best to respond. Your instinct may be to “save them” from the relationship, but abuse is never that simple. There are many ways that abuse appears and there are many reasons why people stay in abusive situations.
Understanding how power and control operate in the context of abuse and how to shift power back to those affected by domestic violence are some of the most important ways to support survivors in your life.
The experience of surviving relationship abuse is traumatic, and people in any stage of an abusive relationship should be able to depend on others for support as they process complex emotions and navigate the next steps.
You can provide essential emotional support by:
- Acknowledging that their situation is difficult, scary, and brave of them to regain control from.
- Not judging their decisions and refusing to criticize them or guilt them over a choice they make.
- Remembering that you cannot “rescue them,” and that decisions about their lives are up to them to make.
- Not speaking poorly of the abusive partner.
- Helping them create a safety plan.
- Continuing to be supportive of them if they do end the relationship and are understandably lonely, upset, or return to their abusive partner.
- Offering to go with them to any service provider or legal setting for moral support.
Depending on the situation, a survivor may be financially dependent on an abusive partner or otherwise lack access to material resources. One of the most immediate ways you can support someone experiencing relationship abuse is by helping them with their material needs.
- Help them identify a support network to assist with physical needs like housing, food, healthcare, and mobility as applicable.
- Help them by storing important documents or a “to-go bag” in case of an emergency situation.
- Encourage them to participate in activities outside of their relationship with friends and family, and be there to support them in such a capacity
- Encourage them to talk to people who can provide further help and guidance, like The Hotline or our teen and young adult project love is respect.
- If they give you permission, help document instances of domestic violence in their life, including pictures of injuries, exact transcripts of interactions, and notes on a calendar of dates that incidents of abuse occur.
- Don’t post information about them on social media that could be used to identify them or where they spend time.
- Help them learn about their formal legal rights through resources like Women’s Law, which provides information on domestic violence laws and procedures.
- With their permission, ensure that others in the buildings where the survivor lives and works are aware of the situation, including what to do (and what not to do) during a moment of crisis or confrontation with an abusive partner.
Sources: The United Nations, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Violence Domestic Hotline and Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.