“I never thought domestic violence could happen to someone in my life. Until she told me… And all along I had no idea.”
When a friend or family member confides that they’re being abused—or if you suspect that abuse is happening— it can be overwhelming. You’re worried about your friend, for her safety and, if there are children, theirs. You want to help. But it can be difficult to know what to do, while also keeping everyone safe. There are steps you can take to help someone you know who is in an abusive relationship.
- Talk to her. Talk to your friend or family member, and let her know that you’re concerned. If she denies the abuse, don’t force the issue, but let her know that you’re there if she ever needs to talk. Knowing that someone cares and is there for her can make a big difference for someone who may have been suffering in silence.
- Assure her. Assure her that the abuse is not her fault and that you’re there to listen without judgment. Her safety is paramount, so be sure to reinforce that she shouldn’t confront her partner.
- Be there for her. There are several ways that you can be there for her. You can offer her a safe place to stay by letting her, her children, and pets stay at your home. However, it’s important not to let her partner in if he arrives on your doorstep wanting to talk to her. You can also offer to watch her children while she’s in the process of getting help.
- Support her with information. Provide her with resources, such as the Assaulted Women’s Helpline or information on her local women’s shelter, so that she can be prepared in the event that she finds herself in immediate danger. But ensure that you don’t share paper pamphlets or other materials that could be discovered by her partner. Let her know that, if safe to do so, she can pack a bag that she can leave at your home or another safe location.
- Be understanding. Your friend or family member is in a very complicated situation. She may not feel able or ready to leave her abusive partner. Leaving might put her or her children in danger. She might be experiencing feelings of shame. So it’s critical that you continue to support her, while understanding that she might not be ready to leave. You can offer to accompany her if she seeks information and resources. Continue to express your concern for her and her children’s safety gently.
- Prepare your friend for an emergency. If she finds herself in immediate danger, let her know that she should call 911. If she’s unable to speak to the operator, she should leave the phone of the hook; police will be automatically dispatched. If she is afraid to call the police, she should call her local women’s shelter or crisis centre. These numbers are at the front of your phone book. Toronto residents can call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 416-863-0511 or Interval House at 416-924-1491.
However strong the desire to help a friend, always keep yourself safe. Don’t get in the middle of an assault, and call the police in case of an emergency.