For Family and Friends

If you know someone who has been abused, start a conversation

Watching someone experience abuse is challenging, especially if that person is someone you know and love. Abuse is about power and control, meaning there may be a clear imbalance in the relationship where one partner has or ends up with more power and control over the other.

Conversations with a survivor about their situation can be hard: they may not want to discuss the abuse they’re experiencing for any number of reasons, including fear, shame, or even concern for their partner who has abusive behavior.

If you’ve noticed warning signs of abuse affecting someone in your life, your instinct may be to intervene or even “save them” from the relationship, but it’s never that simple. Knowing how to have conversations that empower survivors to make their own decisions is one of the most important ways you can help someone in an abusive relationship reach a safer place.

Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline


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Talking about Relationship Abuse

Discussing relationship abuse with someone who is actively experiencing an abusive situation is never easy. While every situation is unique, there are several basic ways to facilitate affirming conversations that meet survivors where they’re at.

  • Acknowledge that they’re in a difficult and scary situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they’re not alone and that there’s help and support available, including from yourself.
  • Be supportive and listen. It will be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Telling survivors what they can and cannot do will only serve to isolate and disempower them further. Your first priority should always be to support them with what they need to make their own decisions.
  • Be non-judgemental. Respect the decisions that a survivor makes. There are many reasons why they might stay in an abusive situation. They might leave and return to the relationship many times. Remember not to criticize their decisions or guilt them — they’ll need your support even more during those moments. Keep in mind that experiencing shame and guilt from friends and family may not only widen the gap between their support system, but also further expand the isolation tactic their partner may already perpetuate in the relationship.
  • Remember that you cannot “rescue them. It’s difficult to watch someone you care about get hurt, but ultimately they are the only one with the right to make a decision about what to do. It’s important to support them no matter what they decide, even if you don’t agree. Remember that abuse is about power and control and making decisions for them can only add to the disempowerment they’re already experiencing from their partners.
  • Help them develop a safety plan. We’ve put together information on creating a safety plan for any stage of leaving an abusive relationship, whether they’re choosing to leave, preparing to leave, or have already left. Keep in mind that leaving is not always an option for everyone and a safety plan may mean focusing on how to stay safe while remaining in the relationship.
  • Encourage them to participate in activities with friends and family. Helping survivors identify and build support networks can help them recognize alternatives to the abusive situations they’re experiencing and build the confidence they need to leave their relationship.
  • Encourage them to talk to people who can offer further help. Identify a local service provider for counseling or support, or reach out to us to get a referral for a program near them Offer to go with them to any service provider or legal setting for moral support.

Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline

Why do Victims Stay?

When it is a viable option, it is best for victims to do what they can to escape their abusers. However, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers repeatedly go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder.

A victim's reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, they will ruin their victim financially -- the list goes on. The victim in violent relationships knows their abuser best and fully knows the extent to which they will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over the victim. The victim literally may not be able to safely escape or protect those they love. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found 20% of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.

Additional barriers to escaping a violence relationship include by are not limited to:

  • The fear that the abuser's actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave.
  • Unsupportive friends and family
  • Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
  • The victim feeling that the relationship is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear.
  • The victim's lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support
  • Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children
  • Lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets
  • Lack of having somewhere to go (e.g. no friends or family to help, no money for hotel, shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay)
  • Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave
  • Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship
  • Belief that two parent households are better for children, despite abuse

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Societal Barriers to Escaping a Violent Relationship

In addition to individual obstacles victims face when escaping violent relationships, society in general presents barriers. These include:

  • A victim's fear of being charged with desertion, losing custody of children, or joint assets.
  • Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children
  • Reinforcement of clergy and secular counselors of "saving" a couple's relationship at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
  • Lack of support to victims by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a "domestic dispute," instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. Often, victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.
  • Dissuasion by police of the victim filing charges. Some dismiss or downplay the abuse, side with the abuser, or do not take the victims account of the abuse seriously.
  • Reluctance by prosecutors to prosecute cases. Some may convince the abuser to please to a lesser charge, thus further endangering victims. Additionally, judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
  • Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating abuse.
  • Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for victims fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep victims safe.
  • Some religious and cultural practices that stress that divorce is forbidden.
  • The socialization of some made to believe they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person.
  • Isolation from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or because they feel "ashamed" of the abuse and try to hide signs of it from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
  • The rationalization of the victim that their abuser's behavior is caused by stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors.
  • Societal factors that teach women to believe their identities and feelings of self-worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
  • Inconsistency of abuse; during non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim's dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to "let off steam." 

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Safety Plan for a Friend, Relative, or Co-Worker Who is Being Abused by an Intimate Partner


This plan is based in part on research findings. Since the overwhelming majority of victims are female we have written this safety plan as if the woman is the victim and the abuser a male. However, victims and perpetrators can be of either sex, and domestic violence occurs in same-sex relationships.

  1. Don’t judge the victim (you are not in her situation).
  2. Avoid telling the victim that she needs to leave (she already knows that she needs to leave but she does not feel she can); instead discuss a safety plan.
  3. Don’t tell her that the abuser is a jerk, that you never liked him, etc. (That might drive her away or make her feel she has to defend him.)
  4. Become the victim’s confidante. Listen to everything she tells you. (You could be a good witness later by backing up her story.)
  5. Assure her you will keep what she tells you confidential. (This will help you gain her trust so she will be more likely to call you if she finds herself in a very serious situation, e.g., trying to escape.)
  6. Ask her what the situation is like for her. (Her abuser may: physically abuse her; make rules that are forever changing; punish her for breaking his rules; criticize her; humiliate her; prevent her from seeing friends or family, or from going to school, work or her place of worship; accuse her of lying or being unfaithful; force her to do things she does not want to do or that make her uncomfortable; monitor what she does; monitor how much money she spends, make her beg for money or demand to see every receipt; destroy the things she cares about; spy on her; blame her for his misdeeds; insult her, call her names or spit on her; tell her friends, family or neighbors nasty things about her; threaten to hurt or kill her, the children or those she loves (including pets), or to kill himself; threaten to abduct (kid- nap) the children, get custody of the children, and/or threaten that she will never see her children again; threaten to put her in a mental hospital; falsely accuse her of drinking or using drugs; or force her to do illegal things.)
  7. Let her know that:
    1. You are afraid for her safety.
    2. You are afraid for the safety of her children.
    3. This is not her fault; no one deserves to be abused.
    4. Even if her abuser apologizes, it does not mean he will stop abusing her.
    5. Alcohol does not cause abuse; many alcoholics never abuse, and most abusive alcoholics who stop drinking continue to abuse.
    6. There is a good chance the abuse will only get worse.
    7. She is not alone; you will be there to help her, or to help her find others who can help her (be realistic). Pick a code word for her to use to have you call the police (or pick up her children from school).
  8. Let her know that abusers usually snoop on their victims to learn what they are doing and who is supporting them. He may well check her car to see how many miles she has driven, and/ or check her phone or computer for messages and contacts. With today’s electronic security he may even have bugged her phone, computer, or put GPS on her car so that he will know everywhere she goes. (See Resources.)
  9. Let her know that her abuser will most likely try to isolate her from anyone who is supportive of her (including her children, and even you) by driving her and her supporters away from each other. Common tactics are to disparage one (or both) to the other, to make it very difficult for her to see supporters, and, if all else fails, threaten her or those supporting her. Tell her if you know he is doing such things. (Be aware that he may be talking to your friends and family, or even snooping on you to find out what you are doing to support her.)
  10. Let her know that women who are abused by their male partners are three times as likely to get infected with HIV, and that her risk is much higher if her abuser is engaging in risky activity or causing her to engage in risky activity. She may want to get tested for HIV, and get treated if she tests positive.
  11. If it is safe for you to do so (and nobody in your household will tell her abuser), offer to let her store some emergency things in your home in case she (and, ideally, her children) need to leave quickly. These should include information about her abuser’s driver’s license, car registration and workplace address (often needed to get or register an order of protection), and his and her financial data (like credit cards, bank accounts, insurance policies), her emergency and important phone numbers, prescription information (and even an emergency supply of medications), and her children’s immunization records. It should also include information about any firearms he has. 
  12. If she has children:
    1. Let her know that most people who abuse their partners are not good parents, that most of them physically or sexually abuse the children, and that, if nothing else, they are poor role models for the children, and they often become worse as the children grow older.
    2. Let her know that you know it is hard for the children to be in this situation, and that children are much more harmed by living in a home with domestic violence than they are by divorce or separation.
    3. Let her know that, unless she has court permission to relocate, she may lose custody if she flees with the children to another state. She should work with domestic violence advocates or a lawyer if she plans to leave with the children.
    4. Let her know that if she leaves with- out one or more of her children and wants custody of them or to protect them, she should talk to a lawyer or domestic violence advocate about getting an order of protection and/ or custody order, and the sooner she does this the better.
    5. She, you or somebody should tell the children that abuse is wrong.
    6. She, you or somebody should teach the children that they should never get in the middle when one parent is abusing the other, that they should go somewhere where they will be safe and, if they can do so safely, call the police.
    7. She, you or somebody should teach the children how to call the police for help, how to give their name, the address where they are calling from, and a brief explanation of why help is needed (e.g., daddy is beating up mommy). They should know that dialing 911 on a cell phone may not get the local police.
  13. If she does not have children, let her know that:
    1. It is easier to get out of a bad relationship when there are no children, and that abusers control their women through the children;
    2. Abusive men often sabotage their female partners’ use of birth control to get them pregnant;
    3. Having children almost always makes abusers more possessive and abusive.
  14. Encourage the victim to document everything that happened, including an accurate account of how she was injured. Suggest that she get medical treatment.
  15. If she has injuries, ask her if you can take pictures of them to keep at your home or other safe place. (Assure her it is to document the injuries when she is ready to call the police or go to court. Date the pictures and keep them with notes about when, where and how she got the injuries. She may need several copies or enough pictures to use to get an order of protection, if criminal charges are brought, and to use in a divorce and/or custody case.)
  16. Document all the dates and times that you see injuries on the victim, even if she denies he caused her injuries. The victim may have gone to the hospital but did not tell you or was too ashamed to tell you.
  17. If the abuser has destroyed or damaged household property, with her permission, have the police, you or somebody else take pictures of the damage. Store the pictures in a safe place with the date, time and description of what each picture shows so she can use them in court if she wants.
  18. Tell the victim about her local domestic program and give her its phone number (Safe Haven 419-289-8085) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for help in developing a safety plan and obtaining information about emergency shelter/relocation, restraining orders and advocacy programs in or out of her area.
  19. Be aware that clergy vary, and while some clergy are really helpful in cases of domestic violence, many others are not. The local domestic violence program is likely to know who will be helpful if the victim wants to talk to a member of the clergy.
  20. If the victim is going to leave her abuser, tell her not to tell her abuser or anyone who might tell him in advance.
  21. Offer her a safe place, if this is realistic, or help her find one.
  22. If the victim leaves the relationship, do not disclose her location, especially to mutual friends or family members of the abuser. (Her safety is paramount.)
  23. If the victim is suicidal this is an indication of just how desperate she feels; she needs help (ideally without letting her abuser know). National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

by Officer Randy White 8321* and Joan Zorza, Esq., Domestic Violence Report, October/November 2010
*Randy White is the Subject Matter Expert for the Oakland Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit. An officer for 10 years, he works with the Family Justice Center in Oakland, CA and can be reached at or (510) 587-2526.

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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