Guide for Family & Friends
How can you identify and help people at risk of abuse?
Many times, if someone is being physically abused, others may be alerted by the constant bruises that may appear on the victim, who will likely work very hard to hide those bruises by wearing longer hair, or less revealing clothes. Be alert of sunglasses and heavily applied makeup. Sometimes, abusers may choose to hit their victims in non-visible places, and the only way to tell is when the abused flinches in pain. Now that we are required to wear masks, there exists another level of hiding possible; bruises can also be hidden behind masks used for safety.
Emotional abuse can be a silent killer, since it’s easier to hide bruises people can’t see. There are ways to observe from someone’s behavior if he/she is being emotionally abused:
- Agitation, anxiety, or constant apprehension
- Changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much or not enough)
- Developing a drug or alcohol problem
- Extremely apologetic or timid
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Low self-esteem
- Seeming fearful
- Symptoms of depression
- Talking about or attempting suicide
- Becoming reserved and distant or cutting off contacts with friends and family members
- Often cancels appointments or meetings at the last minute
- Drops out of activities he/she would usually enjoy
- Exhibits excessive privacy of his/her personal life or the person with whom he/she is in a relationship
- Is often late to work or other appointments
How to talk to someone you think might be abused
Oftentimes we might recognize the signs of someone who we think may be in an abusive situation. Your initial reaction could possibly be to stay away, since abuse can be a touchy subject, but how would you approach the situation or the person?
Interacting before addressing the abuse
The last thing someone who is being abused needs, is to be alienated. That person is going through more than you can imagine, and if visiting this website is your first step, then you’re on the right track!
Start by doing your research. Understanding someone’s situation is a head-start to interacting with an abused person. There are a lot of misconceptions about abuse:
Leaving the relationship should be easy
There are many factors that may make it difficult for someone to leave an abusive relationship, including shared children and/or pets; cultural demands; financial dependency on the abuser; and the threat of worse violence. In addition to these ties, is the emotionally manipulative aspect of such relationships. Abuse usually occurs after strong feelings for a partner have developed. Never assume for the person going through something that it is easy to leave.
Abuse is always physical
Many assume physical violence must be involved in an abusive relationship, but that is not always the case. Other forms of abuse such as emotional, financial, or digital abuse are common, but often overlooked. When abuse is not physical, it can be harder to recognize.
Someone who needs help will ask for it
Someone who notices that his/her relationship might be abusive, will need support in planning for safety. However; many people may feel scared, ashamed, guilty or isolated, and therefore hesitant to reach out for help.
Abusers are always putting the victim down
Many abusers are charming and charismatic in most settings. Many victims may be “swept off their feet” and find it hard to recognize the signs of abuse slowly building. Violent episodes may be followed by tearful apologies and kind, loving gestures. Such tactics are designed to make you question the initial violent actions.
In everything you’ve just read, the most important aspect of all of this is to approach the (possibly) abused person in a non-judgmental way. They may be afraid to respond to your interactions, or do so with any variety of ways. If you decide to take the step towards addressing someone’s abusive situation it is your duty to not take anything personally. Many people may even lash out and it’s not about you; this is a reflection of manifested pain.
How to address possible abuse.
If you’re here, you’re probably concerned about someone you know possibly being abused. The chances are high that you may know a sister, brother, mother, father, colleague, cousin or friend who is experiencing abuse behind closed doors. Unless you’re trying to help someone who has been very open about their experiences it may be difficult to acknowledge the problem directly.
Here are a few tips to addressing an abused person:
- Listen. Try to understand, and take care to not place the blame on him/her. Let that person know that he/she is not alone and that there are many people in the same situation.
- Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk about experiencing abuse. Give him/her time to talk, but don’t probe into more detail than is forthcoming.
- Acknowledge that he/she is in a frightening and very difficult situation.
- Let him/her know that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite the abuser’s opinion. Nothing can justify the abuser’s behavior.
- Offer support as a loved one. Encourage expression of feelings, whatever they are. Allow him/her to make decisions.
- Do not suggest leaving the relationship if he/she is not ready: that is a personal decision.
- Find a way to gently ask if there may be physical harm. If so, offer to go along to the hospital, or to see a House Doctor.
- Help to report the intimate partner violence to the police if the victim chooses to do so.
- Be ready to provide information about the Safe Haven Foundation, and explore the available options together.
- Plan safe strategies for leaving the abusive relationship.
- Let him/her create boundaries of what he/she considers safe and what is not; do not urge anyone to follow any strategies that he/she expresses doubt about.
- Look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Ensure that you do not put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, do not offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.