How to Help when a Friend tells you she is being Abused

When a friend tells you she’s being abused:

  • Believe her. Even if you know and like her abuser, know that it is common for abusive individuals to put their best face forward outside the home.
  • Tell her it’s not her fault. Don’t focus on what happened to “provoke” abuse. No one makes someone else abuse them.
  • Validate her feelings. A person who’s been abused can be filled with self-doubt. Let her know that feelings of fear, anger, shame, confusion, depression, embarrassment, loneliness, hope, hopelessness, hate, love, are all normal.
  • Don’t minimize. Let your friend know that you take what she has told you very seriously. Don’t try to make her feel better by letting on that it’s not that bad. Bring it up again. Remember that pretending it’s not happening or that it’s no big deal doesn’t make it go away.
  • Tell her positive things about herself. The act of physical abuse and the verbal abuse that typically go along with it can tear down a woman’s view of herself. You can help by communicating clearly the strengths that you see in her.
  • Listen. Although you may want to intervene immediately, the best help is to be someone she can rely on while she sorts it out for herself. Too much advice may make it difficult for her to do that.
  • Ask her about the children. Without judging, encourage her to talk about how she sees the abuse affecting them. Validate those concerns. It may help her to leave in the future.
  • Don’t try to make her do anything she doesn’t want to. If you try to take control, she won’t be ready and it’s likely to fail.
  • Don’t blame her for the abuse or her decisions. Leaving an abusive relationship may seem like a simple decision to make. It’s not. Leaving is difficult for a lot of reasons, and it usually takes a long time.
  • Urge her to seek medical attention and report to the police. The decision is hers, but even if she is not ready to leave, a documented history of abusive incidents will help her in the future with obtaining safety measures and custody of children.
  • Give her good information about abuse. It might not be safe for her to keep books and pamphlets around, but you can pass on information verbally and direct her to internet resources. As internet use can be easily monitored, recommend she use your computer or a library to access these resources.
  • Tell her that domestic violence is a crime and she can call 911 for help. If it’s not safe to stay on the phone with the operator, run or go to a safe place.
  • Help her develop a safety plan for the time she stays as well as the time when she leaves.
  • Encourage her to build a wide support system. Talk to her about the possibility of breaking the secret with trustworthy people, consulting a lawyer, attending a support group, getting to know people in the community, having a job or building job skills. Keep safety in mind, as the abuser may oppose these efforts.
  • Don’t blame or attack the abuser. Realize that in spite of what has happened there is a relationship that has involved strong feelings and loyalty. It’s emotionally confusing to be with someone who says he loves her, yet hurts her so badly. It’s likely that she has coped by making excuses for the abuser. Harsh statements against him may prompt her to defend him.
  • Keep in contact. Abuse creates isolation, and isolation makes it harder to get out. Find out from your friend the best times for you to initiate phone calls and get-togethers, and follow through.
  • Respect her right to privacy. Gossip only reinforces the sense of isolation and shame, and it could put her in danger.
  • Be patient and don’t give up. Gathering the will and strength to leave may take longer than you hope. Waiting can be frustrating, but knowing you’re still there for her can help her act when she is ready.