Dealing with Domestic & Dating Violence
Is someone you care about in a violent relationship? It can be hard to stand by and watch someone you love get hurt. It’s worse when you aren’t sure how to help. Your instinct is to rush in and rescue them but maybe they won’t leave, or they get angry with you for trying to force them to get help. What do you do?
It might be helpful if you do some research first about what domestic and dating violence is and learn what some of the common tactics abusers use to control the victim. You can find out more information on our website about domestic violence here and dating violence here. Having a good understanding about abusive relationships will help you understand better what your loved one is going through.
When you’re ready to talk with your loved one about the violence, remember three simple words:
Ask. Listen. Believe.
Helpful tip #1: Find a quiet place to have this conversation. A busy restaurant or a living room full of kids probably aren’t the best places to have a heart to heart.
“I’m worried about you. Is everything okay?” When you start the conversation like this, you’re showing that you care about them. You are showing that you see something is wrong and you’re willing to talk about it. Victims may feel embarrassed or ashamed of the violence. The abuser may have threatened them to keep them from talking about it. Showing that you are concerned and that you care can go a long way toward helping them talk about the abuse.
Helpful tip #2: Show that you’re listening by turning toward the victim, looking at them, restating what they’ve said in your own words, and asking for clarification for something you didn’t understand.
Now that you’ve asked about the violence, be quiet and really listen to your loved one. Don’t step in with advice or admonishments: “You need to leave. I can’t believe you put up with that. I would never let a man hit me.” Statements like these are judgmental and unhelpful. You don’t know the full story, you aren't in the relationship, and you don’t know what barriers they may face when trying to leave.
Helpful tip #3: Victims do what they can to survive the abuse and often abusers force them to lie in order to cover up the violence. A victim may feel they have to lie in order to get the help they need. Encourage them to be honest and assure them you are there to be the support they need throughout their journey.
Abusers hammer away at a victim’s self-esteem in order to control the victim and to make themselves feel more powerful by comparison. Abusers also often convince victims that no one will help them and no one will believe them. This is why one of the most powerful things you can do for a victim is show that you believe them. This might be the first time the victim has ever reached out for help or told their story. Or it might be the fifth time but no one has believed them before. Either way, your belief of their story is very empowering.
Talking about the abuse
Helpful tip #4: It’s hard not to be angry with the person who is hurting your loved one. Avoid putting down the abuser or threatening them in anyway. It might make the victim feel like they have to defend their partner and could stop the victim from talking openly about the violence.
It’s important to remember that no matter how much you dislike the abuser, the victim probably has feelings for them. The relationship most likely didn’t start out violent so the victim and abuser have had good times as well as bad. We want to see the good in people and the victim is no exception. Who wants to believe that the person they love is unredeemable? “Give me one more chance. I can change.” Coming from someone that you love and want so desperately to be the person you know they could be, would you really turn them away?
A better strategy when talking with a victim is to talk about the abuse—not the abuser. Instead of saying, “How can you stay with him after he hit you?” Try saying, “You don’t deserve to be hit. Is there something I can do to help you?”
Helpful tip #5: Victims often blame themselves for the abuse and often the abuser blames the violence on the victim. So be sure to tell a victim, “It’s not your fault."
Your consistent message that the violence isn’t the victim’s fault will go a long way toward helping the victim escape from the violence. Abusers don’t like to take responsibility for their actions; it’s easier for them to blame the victim. “I didn’t want to hit you, but you just kept nagging and nagging . . ." Letting the victim hear you say that it’s not their fault helps them start to believe that the violence isn’t caused by anything they’ve done or said.
Helpful tip #6: Abusers can be unpredictable and dangerous. Make sure you don’t put yourself in danger trying to help your friend and make sure you don’t put your loved one in danger either; for example, talking about the violence when the abuser is around.
An important part of any talk with a victim is safety planning. You can go to our page about domestic violence and find a lot of good information about how to safety plan. When you have this conversation, remember to let the victim make the plan. They know their situation, they know the abuser, and they should be the ones who create the plan. Ask them how you can be a part of the plan and let them tell you what they need.
Helpful tip #7: The DOVES Program works with victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We have advocates available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to talk to you or your loved one about violence. Please call us or have your loved one call us at: 866-95-DOVES (866-953-6837) for help or more information.
Abusers often cut victims off from friends, family, and the community. Sometimes the victim loses touch with the many resources that are available to them or they don’t realize what help might be available. Help your loved one think through their options and provide them with resources they can use to help them break free from the violence. Possible resources might be churches, Health and Human Services, community action groups, local charities, and of course programs like the DOVES Program. It may not be safe for them to have paper copies of these resources. Brainstorm with the victim on the best way to help them get in touch with local resources, for example, maybe they could call while they are at the hair salon waiting for their appointment.
Taking care of yourself
Helpful tip #8: You’ll have an easier time helping your friend if you take care of yourself. Listening to stories of violence can make it hard for you to sleep and may make you more fearful or nervous. While you should keep your loved one’s story confidential, you can still talk about your own feelings to someone like a local counselor or one of our advocates at the DOVES Program.
It’s hard to support a friend when you’re feeling stressed yourself. Be sure to take time for yourself to relax and take care of yourself. It won’t be helpful to your loved one if you are constantly stressed when you’re with them. Remember your boundaries and listen to your mind and body to help set limits on what you can and can’t do for your loved one. It might be too hard for you to be available all the time and so you may need to let your loved one know that while you are still supporting them, you aren’t available to talk at certain times of the day or in certain places. Keeping yourself healthy and stress-free will help you provide better support for your friend as well as modeling self-care for them.
Putting it all together
By now, you’ve done some research into domestic and dating violence. You’ve read about how to talk to your friend in a way that will help them open up to you. Instead of forcing them into decisions, you’ve given them some tools to help themselves. Think about it:
Doesn’t listen to the victim and doesn’t care what the victim thinks, says, or feels.
Actively listen and care about what the victim has to say.
Forces the victim to lie about the abuse.
Believe the victim
Blames the victim for the violence.
Tell the victim that the violence isn’t their fault.
Tries to convince the victim that no one will help.
Ask the victim, “What do you need me to do?”
Takes away the victim’s support system and tries to keep them from resources that may help them leave the abuse.
Are a part of the victim’s support system and you provide resources so that the victim can see a way out.
By doing these things you are acting the opposite of the abuser. Without forcing or coercing the victim, you are still showing them that you care and that you are willing to help.
With a friend or family member like you, the victim will see that there are people who are willing to help and support them. They will see that violence is not okay and that there are people who support them.