HELP A LOVED ONE
If you know or suspect that a family member, friend, or work colleague is experiencing domestic violence, it may be difficult to know what to do. It can be very upsetting that someone is hurting a person you care about. Your first instinct may be to want to protect your friend or family member but intervening can be dangerous for both you and her. Of course, this does not mean you should ignore it.
What to do
Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen.
Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. You may have to try several times before they will confide in you. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them.
Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family.
Support is critical and the more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner.
Help them develop a safety plan.
Check out our information on safety planning for wherever they are in their relationship — whether they’re choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or have already left.
Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance.
Call us at 406-222-8154 to speak with an advocate. Offer to go with them. If they have to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.
Remember that you cannot “rescue” them.
Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It’s important for you to support them no matter what they decide, and help them find a way to safety and peace.
What not to do
Don’t blame her for the abuse
or ask questions like “what did you do form him to treat you like that?”, or “why do you put up with it?”, or “how can you still be in love with him?” These questions suggest that it is somehow her fault.
Don’t keep trying to work out the ‘reasons’ for the abuse.
Concentrate on supporting the person who is being abused.
Don’t be critical
…if she says she still loves her partner, or if she leaves but then returns to the relationship. Leaving an abusive partner takes time, and support is really important.
It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, especially when that person is a family member, friend, or loved one.
Consider the following ways of showing support:
Listen. Be there. Communicate without judgment.
If the survivor seeks medical attention or plans to report, offer to be there. Your presence can offer the support they need.
Encourage the survivor to get support. Share resources like ASPEN, The National Sexual Assault Hotline and RAINN, but realize that only they can make the decision to get help.
Be patient. Remember, there is no timetable for recovering from trauma. Avoid putting pressure on them to engage in activities they aren’t ready to do yet.
Encourage them to practice good self-care during this difficult time.
Self-Care for Friends and Family Members of Sexual Assault Victims
When someone that you care about tells you that they have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, it can be difficult. You may have a range of reactions that could include…
You may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
You might have difficulty figuring out how to respond.
You might feel angry at the perpetrator for hurting your loved one.
You might also feel angry at your loved one for not telling you sooner or for telling you something that is hard for you to hear. This can be especially true if the assault was committed by someone that you know. An example of this would be sexual assault that is committed by a family member (incest).
You might feel sad for your loved one, for his or her family, or for what this assault may change about both of your lives.
You might feel anxiety about responding the “right” way to your loved one.
You might feel anxiety about how this will impact your relationship.
Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s assault, you might be concerned that something similar could happen to you.
…almost anything is normal.
Everyone has a different reaction when they find out that someone they care for has been sexually assaulted.
There is no “wrong” way to feel. What is important is that you show the victim that you care and that you can help support them.
It’s also very important for you to take care of yourself! Even though you were not the victim of the assault, hearing your loved one’s story and helping to support them can impact you as well.