Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What To Say to a Victim of Abuse

Last month we heard from two survivors of domestic violence. They shared the painful comments they received from others when they disclosed that they were in abusive relationships. This month let’s look at what victims need to hear from their families and friends. 

The best thing a friend or family member can do, is to listen to and confirm the victims feelings. 

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Victims need to know that you believe them. You may be totally shocked and never saw any signs. It’s easy to respond with “I can’t believe it” when taken by surprise. If you do, stop yourself and confirm that you believe she is telling the truth and you are in her corner.

If you are not surprised, be kind with your words. Telling her you saw it coming or you were aware of it all along, can be hurtful and make her feel more foolish than she already does. The above statement is enough. Let her talk. You be a good listener.

Be careful not to demonize the perpetrator. Stay with confirming that his behavior was wrong. If you attack him, she may feel the need to protect him and not take steps to leave. 

Let her experience her own anger. Confirm her right to her feelings. Refrain from becoming angry and going off on a tirade. If you do, you will be carrying her anger for her. She needs to feel it and deal with it herself. Let her know that you are a safe person to whom she can express her feeling.

 “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Victims have been brainwashed to believe that the abuse is their fault. There may have been times when she fought back, making her feel she participated in the violence, even provoked it. We know that women fight back only in an attempt to protect themselves or their children. 

“The abuse is not your fault.”

Perpetrators pick apart everything a victim does or says and constantly criticizes them. Victims internalize this and feel shame—believing they are inherently inadequate and incapable. Remind her that she is not responsible for his violent choices—he is.

“You deserve better.”

Remind her of all the wonderful things about her. Her abuser has been telling her how worthless and stupid she is. Help her see her gifts and abilities. 

Additional ways to help:

  • Call the police immediately if you witness any abuse.
  • Offer to help her find a shelter or do the research on your own so you are ready to help in an emergency.
  • Offer to let her call for help from your cell or home phone when she is ready to reach out for help.
  • Ask if it is okay for you to take pictures of any bruising or injuries on her. Print them, write the date on the back and keep them in a safe place. They can be used as evidence, later.
  • Keep a dated list of abuse that you have witnessed. It can be helpful if she goes to court.
  • Note on your calendar dates when you saw bruising on her. Include the location on her body, their size and color. Again this helps prove on-going abuse and can result in a longer sentence for the perpetrator.
  • See Safety Planning information in the tab at the top of this page. Go over the information together. Offer to keep a suitcase of her clothing and important documents at your house should she need to leave her home quickly. Have a signal that tells you she is in danger and you should call the police.
Abusers can be very dangerous. Those who have never used physical violence, may do so when the victim is trying to leave. Never put yourself in danger by confronting the abuser. Even if you think you can reason with him, you can’t. Most likely, your good intention will give the perpetrator an excuse to attack the victim or you.

Standing with a victim who is struggling to decide whether or not to leave can be difficult. You know she should leave, but she may not be ready to make that move for many logical reasons. If you cheerlead her out of the relationship before she is ready to stay out, she will most likely return to him. Feeling she has let you down will add to her already burgeoning guilt. She doesn’t need that. Let her know that you will continue to love her and will respect her decision even if you disagree.

It takes courage to walk with a friend through domestic abuse. It may weigh heavy on you. If so, shelter  hotlines or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-7997233) can be a resource to give you guidance and support as you help your friend.

Helping someone else, should never hurt you. If you feel overwhelmed, take care of yourself. Give your friend the number for the shelter and the national hotline. There are others who are trained to work with victims. You can be the seed planter and let the professionals take over.