How to help a woman victim of domestic violence
If you suspect that an acquaintance or close friend of yours is a victim of domestic violence, you may feel at a loss if you don’t know how you can help. In such cases, we advise you not to let fear paralyze you, but to think rationally about the situation and what could be done. Waiting for the right moment or searching for the right words can hold you back and miss the right moment to change someone’s life.
For many women victims of domestic violence, the world seems lonely, isolated and filled with fear. Sometimes just reaching out to that person and letting them know you’re there for them is enough to bring a lot of relief.
How can we help?
In this article, we will share some helpful ways in which you can support a woman in a vulnerable situation who has become a victim of domestic violence.
Make time for her
One of the easiest things you can do is to contact a victim of domestic violence. Do it when you feel completely at ease as the subject is delicate. If you interact with the victim when you are worried or upset, anger can quickly flare up. When it comes to domestic violence, there are always feelings involved, especially with a loved one. That’s why we recommend that you stay completely calm and allow enough time to talk in case the woman is afraid to share more. In such cases, very often the woman keeps a sense of fear and disappointment within herself for months and years, so it will not be good to interrupt her in the middle of sharing.
Start a conversation
You’re probably wondering how to bring up the topic in conversation. You can use the following sentences and constructions:
- “I’m worried about you because…”
- “I care about your safety….”
- “I’ve noticed some changes that make me worried…”
You may have seen the woman wearing clothes to cover bruises or scars, or you may have noticed that she has become unusually quiet and withdrawn from others. Both of these things can be signs of domestic violence.
Tell the woman that you will be completely discreet about anything she shares with you. Don’t try to force things or get her to go to the police. Let the conversation develop at a calm pace and in a way that the woman feels confident that nothing threatens her in your communication and that things are under her control.
Speak to the victim calmly and show compassion and understanding.
Listen without judgment
If the woman chooses to share, listen to her story without judging anything in it, without giving advice or offering solutions. If you listen carefully and actively without interrupting the other person, you will have the best chance of finding out exactly what they need. Just give the woman a full chance to share.
You may chime in with follow-up questions, but without interrupting. Allow your partner to vent their feelings and fears to put them at ease. In fact, you may be the first person the victim confides in and dares to share.
Warning signs to look out for
Many victims of domestic violence try to hide what is happening to them for a variety of reasons. We will list some important warning signs to look out for and which will help you further navigate the woman’s situation.
• Chapped lips;
• Red or purple spots on the neck;
• Bruises on hands;
• Abrasions on the wrists.
• Excessive apology or humility;
• Problems sleeping or eating;
• Anxiety or restlessness;
• Abuse of narcotic substances or medicines;
• Symptoms of depression;
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies she used to enjoy;
• Talking about suicide.
• Canceling engagements at the last minute;
• Frequent lateness;
• Excessive closed-mindedness regarding personal life;
• Isolation from friends and relatives.
Trust the victim
By its very nature, domestic violence is much more about asserting control than actively expressing anger. This is why in most cases the victim is the only one who sees the dark side of their abuser. Those who know the abuser are usually shocked to learn that a close friend of theirs may be capable of domestic violence.
As a result, the victim often feels that no one will believe her if she tells anyone about the abuse. For this reason, it is important to believe the woman’s story and tell her in plain text that you understand her. A sense of trust can bring great relief and a sense of hope to a woman that the situation can change.
Use the following constructions in your conversation with her:
- “I believe you”
- “What is happening is not your fault”
- “You don’t deserve this”
Validate the victim's feelings
It is normal for a victim to express mixed feelings about their abuser. These emotions can range from guilt and anger to hope and despair to love and fear.
If you want to help your loved one or acquaintance, it is important to validate her feelings and tell her that everything she is experiencing is normal. Attachment to the abuser also predetermines the mixing of these polar emotions. Also, it’s important to reassure her that the abuse being done to her is not okay and that it’s not normal for her to live in constant fear of physical and/or emotional abuse.
Sometimes victims do not realize that the situation they are in is not normal. This happens when the victim does not know the normal pattern of human relationships and is gradually accustomed to the cycle of repeated abuse. I.e. domestic violence has become “normal” for her. If you notice something like this happening with your loved one, it’s important to tell them in a gentle way that violence and abuse are not part of healthy relationships in a relationship or family. Without judging the person against you, try to confirm that what is happening is not normal or that the situation they are in is dangerous to their health, and you are concerned about their safety.
Offer specific help
If a victim of domestic violence asks you to do something for them, don’t hesitate to help. If you do not have the opportunity to do this, assure her that you are there for her, that she has your support and can always look for you. Another thing you can do is help the victim find resources related to the topic of domestic violence to better navigate their personal situation.
When your loved one feels confident enough to take concrete action, you can help her create a safety plan. The very process of writing down a plan can help her better visualize what steps are needed to mentally prepare for leaving the abuser.
Because victims who leave their abuser are at greater risk of being killed than those who stay, it is extremely important that the victim have a precise and well-planned safety plan before it works.
Help the victim consider each step of the safety plan, weighing the risks and benefits of each option. It is important to include the following in the plan:
- A safe place to go in case of emergency and if he decides to leave home;
- A prepared excuse to leave home if she feels threatened;
- A code word to warn relatives and friends that she needs help;
- A getaway bag containing money, important documents (birth certificate, bank cards, etc.), keys, toiletries and a change of clothes.
- A list of emergency contacts, including trusted friends or relatives, as well as a hotline for victims of domestic violence.
What NOT to do
While there is no right or wrong way to help a victim of domestic violence, there are some things you should avoid as they can make the situation worse. Here’s who they are:
- Don’t label the abuser, don’t blame him in direct conversation. Focus on the behavior, not the personality;
- Don’t blame the victim. That’s what a bully does;
- Do not underestimate the potential dangers to the victim and to yourself. Don’t promise help you can’t provide;
- Don’t give conditional support;
- Don’t do anything to provoke the abuser;
- Don’t pressure the victim to take action;
- Don’t give up. If the victim is not inclined to trust you at the first conversation, be patient;
- Don’t do things that would make it more difficult for the victim.
When to contact the police
If at the moment you know that domestic violence is being committed against your loved one, it is important to call 112. If you hear or witness physical violence, it is imperative. If the police arrive at the scene of the crime at the time it is committed, this is the most favorable way to ensure the safety of the victim and her children.
When domestic violence involves children, immediate action must be taken to ensure their safety. Even if it means going against the victim that is their mother.
While the natural and first impulse is to want to “save” someone you care about, it is important for the victim of domestic violence to make the final decision on whether (and when) to leave the shared home and seek help. It’s important to reassure her that she has your support no matter what decision she makes.