How to Offer Support to Victims of Domestic/Dating Violence

As with sexual violence, supporting a friend who is a victim of domestic/dating violence is no easy task.  It is very different from helping a friend with an everyday problem. Thus, it will be important to get appropriate information from professionals and obtain services for yourself as well. Below are some helpful guidelines to consult.

While the Start by Believing campaign is more geared towards sexual violence, it very much applies to domestic violence as well. When a friend confides in you, that means they trust that you can help and that they are seriously concerned about their relationship. Many times in DV relationships, the victim does not disclose to anyone due to the psychological control often experienced; so, know that a disclosure is big deal and your response matters. You can watch a video about the Start by Believing campaign on the Supporting SV Victims page.

When a Friend Tells Me about Their Relationship…

The best thing you can do when a friend initially discloses their concerns about their relationship is simply listen with a non-judgmental ear and offer support.  Often, you might feel angry towards to the offending partner and want to tell your friend all the bad things you think about them. However, this is counterproductive. The last thing your friend needs is another angry person to calm down. It is important that you stay very even-tempered so that your friend knows you are a safe resource. Also, it is very common for victims of DV to continue the relationship with the abuser for a length of time even after disclosing their concerns. Your friend will be much less likely to confide in you again should things get worse if you react overly negatively towards the abusive partner.  Thus, while you want to express your concern for your friend, you don’t want to be so expressive that your friend doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about it again.  

Here are some guidelines for reacting to a friend when they tell you about their abusive relationship:

  • Ensure that you are both safe, i.e. talk in a confidential location away from the abusive partner.
  • Stay calm; do not become overly angry at the abusive partner.
  • Listen with a non-judgmental ear.
  • Tell your friend that he/she deserves to be treated with respect and make sure he/she understands this behavior is not their fault.
  • Be clear when stating that you are concerned the partner's behavior will continue to get worse, because you know that DV typically escalates over time, and that you think your friend is in danger.
  • Offer campus resources and off campus resources your friend can utilize.
  • Offer to assist your friend in any action he/she could potentially take, i.e. go with them to the Student Conduct Office to file a university complaint, go with them to the police station to file a police report, go with them to talk to a counselor, etc.

Again, it is very common for victims to remain with the abusive partner even after disclosing to a friend. While it may seem very clear to you that the best decision is to leave the abusive partner, DV is a very complex and confusing experience for victims.  There is no easy answer for why victims to stay with their abusive partners as there are many psychological factors at play. Many times, victims feel they cannot support themselves, they still love their partner and hope that he/she will change, or they blame themselves for the abuse. You can learn more about some of the reasons a victim might stay and other information at safehorizon.org.

When the friend chooses not to leave...

If you are in a situation where a friend is choosing to stay with the abusive partner against your recommendation or concerns, it can be incredibly frustrating.  You might even become angry with your friend for not taking care of themselves or making what you percieve to be dangerous decisions.  While that is a very understandable reaction, your response at this point is critical.  The best thing you can do is accept your friend’s choices, even if you don’t agree with them.  That way, your friend continues to know that you are a safe resource.  Sometimes, you might even think that giving your friend an ultimatum (e.g. leave your partner or I can’t be friends with you) might convince them to leave.  However, this only serves to further restrict resources available to your friend and makes them even more vulnerable. 

Here are some tips for continuing to help a friend who stay with their abusive partner:

  • Accept your friend’s choices, even if you don’t agree with them.
  • Continue to gently express your concern for your friend and ensure that your friend knows the abuse is not his/her fault.
  • Continue to provide resources and offer to assist with anything you can.
  • Talk to a counselor yourself to ensure that you are taking care of yourself.

This is not an easy situation by any means. You will likely become very frustrated and may even feel helpless. However, you are not helpless and you can continue to be there for your friend so that when/if your friend decides they are ready to leave, your friend has a safe place to turn.

What if I Suspect a Friends Relationship is Abusive?

If you suspect that your friends relationship may be abusive, you have a couple of options: do nothing or intervene in some way. If you are truly concerned about a friend, the best thing you can do is express that concern as early as possible before the relationship gets worse. While you do not want to be so forceful that your friend becomes angry with you, there are ways you can gently express concern. Here are some you could choose from:

  • Always consider safety first, i.e. ensure that you and the friend are in a safe location away from the partner before talking.
  • Talk to a professional counselor to get advice about how to approach your friend .
  • Provide your friend with education regarding what DV looks like.
  • Calmly explain what behaviors exhibited by the partner lead you to be concerned.
  • Be sure your friend knows that the concerning behavior is not their fault.

Again, this is not an easy situation for anyone. The best thing you can do is consult professionals both for yourself and for your friend.