There are many reasons why you might be concerned about someone you know – perhaps they have previously told you that their partner has been violent and/or abusive; perhaps they have indicated that they sometimes feel scared, or isolated, or that their partner is controlling; perhaps you have some concerns based on things you’ve seen or heard before.
It can be difficult to know what to do when you think someone you care about is at risk. Here is some guidance to help you reach out to your loved ones and talk to them about what’s going on.
1. Talk to them:
Be patient. Isolation and manipulation are frequently used tactics of abuse. Your friend or family member may stop contacting you or become withdrawn. Perpetrators are adept at making these situations look like they are the victim’s/survivor’s choice and may be intentionally turning their family and friends against them. If someone is acting out of character, consider whether there may be something else going on and try to reach out if you can speak to them on their own.
Try and find out more about what is going on. It might be harder for them to get time to themselves whilst in lockdown, only ask questions when you think it is safe to do so, ie. when they are alone doing the shopping or taking a walk; or in a room by themselves. Ask them if it’s safe to talk, and use ask yes/no questions if necessary.
Approach it gently, take your time. They might say everything is fine, but you’ve opened the door for them to tell you more. Be mindful that it may feel unsafe for a survivor to tell a friend or family member what’s happening, try not to get frustrated if you feel that they are not telling you the full story.
2. Validate their experience, challenge their doubt and self-blame
If they tell you more about what’s going on, listen to them, believe them, and reassure them that it’s not their fault.
They might be doubting themselves or feeling like they are making a big deal out of nothing. Hearing things like ‘that sounds really difficult’, ‘this seems like it’s making you feel really bad’ lets them know that you are listening, you believe them, and what they are saying is valid.
They might feel like something is all their fault or focus on things they’ve done wrong – after all, this is what they are hearing from the person who is abusing them all the time! You can offer a different perspective on this: saying things like “it doesn’t sound like it’s your fault”, “I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong here”, “what you’ve done seems reasonable to me”, can provide some reassurance for them and highlight that they are not to blame.
It’s important to recognise that some of the most powerful forms of abuse are not physical – coercive control, financial abuse and psychological abuse can be extremely damaging and often result in a survivor feeling trapped and powerless. If someone discloses any form of abuse to you, validate their experience, support them, and advise them to seek help.
3. Tell them about the support that is available
You can share the number of the Solace’s helpline, the national domestic abuse helpline, or of local service (find out what’s available in your area on your local authority website). Let them know that the helplines are there to provide free, confidential support, that we will listen, and that we will never judge, stigmatise or blame them.
Remember, specialist services are there to help provide support and advice. Don’t try to take it all on yourself and offer advice – what might be good advice for one person, could put another person at risk. Specialist workers can assess the risks, safety plan and provide advice and guidance.
4. Find out how you can support them
Ask them what you could do to support them. This could be arranging a code word that they can use over the phone or via text, so if they are in danger, you know to call 999. If it’s safe to do so, they could leave some emergency items at your place, such as some clothes, passport and essential documents, in case they and any children need to leave at short notice. If they do have to leave, encourage them to get to a safe place and call Solace, or the national helpline if it’s out of hours, to get advice on the next steps.
- Insult their partner: think about a time when someone was mean or rude about someone you cared about – how did that feel?
- Ask them what they’ve done to ‘provoke’ the situation: they will be carrying enough blame and doubt, and they don’t need you to add to it!
- Try to force them to take action they’re not ready for: they will do that when they are ready.
- Try to manage the situation yourself: you are not alone in this, and neither is the survivor. Specialist support is available.