How to help a mistreated friend

How to help a mistreated friend

Whether you suspect that a friend or family member is being mistreated or you witnessed someone being abused, you can take steps to help.

Knowing or thinking that someone you care about is in a violent situation can be very hard. You may fear for her safety — and maybe for good reason. You may want to rescue her or insist she leave, but every adult must make her own decisions.

Each situation is different, and the people involved are all different too. Here are some ways to help a loved one who is being abused:

  • Set up a time to talk. Try to make sure you have privacy and won’t be distracted or interrupted. Visit your loved one in person if possible.
  • Let her know you’re concerned about her safety. Be honest. Tell her about times when you were worried about her. Help her see that mistreatment is wrong. She may not respond right away, or she may even get defensive or deny the mistreatment. Let her know you want to help and will be there to support her in whatever decision she makes.
  • Be supportive. Listen to your loved one. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for her to talk about the mistreatment. Tell her that she is not alone and that people want to help. If she wants help, ask her what you can do.
  • Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help her with child care, or to provide transportation, for example.
  • Don’t place shame, blame, or guilt on her. Don’t say, “You just need to leave.” Instead, say something like, “I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.” Tell her you understand that her situation is very difficult.
  • Help her make a safety plan. Safety planning might include packing important items and helping her find a “safe” word. This is a code word she can use to let you know she is in danger without an abuser knowing. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet her if she has to leave in a hurry.
  • Encourage her to talk to someone who can help. Offer to help her find a local domestic violence agency. Offer to go with her to the agency, the police, or court. They can offer advice based on experience and can help find local support and services.
  • If she decides to stay, continue to be supportive. She may decide to stay in the situation, or she may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in a complicated situation for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what she decides to do.
  • Encourage her to do things outside of the relationship. It’s important for her to see friends and family.
  • If she decides to leave, continue to offer help. Even though the situation was abusive, she may feel sad and lonely once it is over. She may also need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
  • Let her know that you will always be there no matter what. It can be very frustrating to see a friend or loved one stay in an abusive situation. But if you end your relationship, she has one less safe place to go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave an abusive situation, but you can let them know you’ll help, whatever they decide to do.
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