Breaking the silence: tips for supporting a friend experiencing domestic abuse
1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and for those women, it can be extremely lonely. If a woman is experiencing domestic abuse, she is most likely to turn to someone she knows – friend, colleague, family member or neighbour. Likewise, it is usually those closest to them that suspect something is wrong.
It can be difficult to know what to say or how to approach the conversation when you suspect someone is or someone tells you they are experiencing domestic abuse. Therefore, it is important to communicate with them to help them to feel supported, validated, and empowered to act when they are ready. It can also provide an opportunity to offer resources and assistance, and potentially help them to escape their situation.
It can be worrying knowing what to say when we have concerns about someone experiencing domestic abuse. Many fear they will say the wrong thing, cause offence or scare the survivor away. However, if you approach them sensitively, in a non-judgemental manner, they will appreciate you showing interest in their wellbeing, even if they choose not to speak about their experience. Sometimes, simply listening can help someone to break the silence about their situation.
Know the signs:
There are often signs that can be noticed when someone is experiencing domestic abuse. Some, none, or many of the indicators can be present. Find out more about what physical, emotional, and environmental signs you can look out for here. Remember, domestic abuse isn’t just physical abuse.
Time and place:
Deciding where and when to have a conversation with someone about the domestic abuse they are experiencing is something to consider before going ahead. It is important to choose a safe and private location where they feel comfortable and not within the presence of their perpetrator. Try to choose a time when they will not be in immediate danger, when they are not expected to be somewhere else, and ensure they won’t be under duress. Keeping the atmosphere calm will help to relax them before you begin the conversation.
Opening a conversation:
Approach the conversation gently by starting with things you have noticed, such as:
- ‘We haven’t seen much of you recently, is there anything you want to talk about?’
- ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself, has anything or anyone upset you?’
- ‘I’m concerned about your safety because…’
- ‘I’ve recognised that you partner has done this recently and it worries me because…’
Listen without judgement:
If someone discloses that they are experiencing domestic abuse to you, be mindful that you might be the first person they have told. Listen carefully without judging and reaffirm that they are not alone by offering reassurance and assistance.
Never underestimate the power of listing. To a survivor, giving them the space to talk about their situation can mean everything to them as they may feel that their experiences are their own fault or blame themselves.
It is common for survivors to feel a range of emotions about their perpetrator and situation. From guilt and anger to depression, fear and confusion, there will be elements of all emotions, and often they will still feel love towards the person abusing them. It is essential to let them know that having these feelings and emotions is natural but reiterate that what is happening to them is not acceptable.
Survivors could react defensively when approaching their domestic abuse situation in conversation. Remember that this might be due to fear and worry for many different reasons. Don’t pressure them into disclosing anything if they are not ready; simply knowing you are concerned about them and willing to listen and support them will be enough to ensure they know you are there when they are ready to talk.
Empathy helps you to see things from the other person’s perspective, sympathise with their emotions, and build a stronger connection. Here are some examples of empathetic language you can use:
- ‘I believe you’
- ‘I’m here for you’
- ‘It’s not your fault’
- ‘You deserve better’
- ‘I’m here to help in any way I can’
- ‘You are not alone’
- ‘What can I do to help?’
Using empathetic language can be a powerful tool when talking to a friend about their domestic abuse situation. Remember to approach the conversation with sensitivity and empathy, and to let the survivor know that you are there to support them in any way you can.
Offer support and resources:
Experiences of domestic abuse can undermine an individual’s capacity to exercise choice and control their life’s decisions. It is vital that you support them to regain their own sense of control and autonomy to help them feel empowered to act. You will need to be aware not to unintentionally want to ‘fix’ their situation as you could undermine their efforts of regaining control and potentially lead them to undertake decisions placing them at higher risk.
Trust them to make their own choices and decisions, supporting them in any way that you can. Be ready with information and resources to help them, such as providing contact details for specialist domestic abuse services (including NIDAS and National Domestic Abuse Helplines). They are more likely to make contact when the don’t feel pressured to, it must be on their terms.
Explore practical steps they can take to manage their safety, including:
- Having information and contact details of safe accommodation options available as provided by you
- Setting aside money
- Talking to someone they work with to make them aware of their situation
- Knowing how to safeguard the wellbeing of children
Being your friend’s ally will mean the world to them and with some encouragement, just being there can eventually help them to seek professional support. When they are ready to get help, continue to be there by checking in with them, offering to go to a support group to provide morale support, asking if there is anything they need and just be a shoulder to cry on.
Looking after you:
Supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse is selfless and caring, however, it can have a negative effect on your own wellbeing. It is common to go through a variety of feelings, such as sadness, helplessness, anger, guilt, and confusion.
You can contact confidential domestic abuse helplines yourself to further explore how to support someone experiencing domestic abuse. Remember you are not an expert, you can only support someone and provide a safe space if you are looking after yourself as well.
We are here
If you know someone experiencing domestic abuse in the Mansfield or Ashfield areas, we are here when they are ready to seek support.
Call us on: 01623 683 250
Email us: [email protected]
For out-of-hours, call the Nottinghamshire Domestic Abuse Helpline on: 0808 800 Outside Nottinghamshire, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on: 0808 2000 247