Supporting an Abuse Victim

January 11, 2009

Supporting a domestic violence victim can be difficult and confusing. One day they will be telling you their partner is a complete jerk. The next day that same person will be starry eyed and defending them. You will be left scratching your head and thinking “What the?!”

It takes a lot of courage for a domestic violence victim to admit their situation. Many victims have been convinced that the violence is their fault, that they should be trying harder, or that they somehow deserve what is happening to them. Let them know that no matter what, they never, ever deserve to be treated this way. You should know that for a victim to confide in you, they have trusted you enough to tell you something very personal and very painful. That is a huge step for them to take, and they are reaching out for your help. Your friendship and support obviously means a great deal to them.

The immediate reaction to being told by someone close to you that they are being abused is to berate the abuser. Difficult as it may seem, resist this temptation. Consider this. It takes a victim an average of seven times to leave a violent relationship. Seven. Imagine your friend opens up to you the first time she wants to leave her partner. You both agree that he is a good-for-nothing jerk. Then they get back together. The victim is going to feel a little silly and embarrassed when they tell you they are back together with their partner. If they don’t think you understand them or aren’t “on their side,” they will stop confiding in you.

If you find yourself in the situation of helping someone in a violent relationship, educate yourself on domestic violence and the cycle it follows. Listen to your friend without judgment. Don’t belittle their concerns. Don’t try to hustle them on to a more pleasant subject. Don’t tell them what they “should” do. You are not them, and you are not going through it. Don’t try to better their situation with woes about your own partner. Your friend needs all the strength and support they can get right now. Support them wherever you can, as long as you are not placing yourself in danger. If you believe their life is in danger, go to the police.

At times it may be confusing and frustrating to see your friend making progress, only to go back to their partner time after time. Please don’t give up on them. While their actions may seem bizarre to you, try to understand that they are undergoing massive emotional turmoil. Sometimes, all you can do is be a shoulder to cry on until they are ready to leave. Try not to become frustrated with them. Just reassure them that you will always be there to help when they need you. A safe space and your kind words may be a beacon of hope for your lost and lonely friend.

Confiding in you can be a huge relief for your friend, however, unless you have been through the experience yourself, there are things about their situation that you will find difficult to comprehend. It’s also possible that the victim doesn’t completely understand their situation. For this reason you may wish to encourage your friend to seek the help of a professional counselor. Counselors understand the domestic violence cycle and can give an objective view of the situation. They know what to ask and are trained to help.

Find more information about supporting domestic violence victims by visiting the Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre.

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