It is not always easy to know how to how to support a friend or family member who is experiencing domestic abuse. But you can make a difference.
Here are some basic steps you can take:
- Do not be afraid to talk to someone who you think needs help. Try to be direct, tell them you are worried about them and concerned for their safety and want to help
- Give them time to open up. It takes strength to trust someone enough to confide in them about experiencing abuse
- Offer reassurance that that the abuse is not ‘normal’, that no one deserves to be hurt, threatened, or controlled and that abusive behaviour can never be justified
- Don’t tell a person experiencing abuse to leave, or criticise them for staying. It is important that your friend/family member feels able to talk to you even if they stay in the relationship
- Focus on supporting your friend/family member, not on the abusive partner. Build up their confidence, and acknowledge how well they are coping in a challenging and stressful situation
- Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family. Help your friend/family member develop and/or sustain contact with other people. This can help to boost self-esteem
- Help with developing a safety plan and contacting local organisations that can offer support. There is information about how to do this in Keeping safe and How to get help
- Ask if your friend/family member has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with them to see the GP or go to hospital
- Do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by offering to talk to the abuser. It will only make the situation worse for the person being abused
- Be patient. Leaving an abusive relationship is a process. It can take time for a person to recognise they are being abused and even longer to make safe decision about what to do. Recognising the abuse and being there for someone is an important first step
What might a person experiencing domestic abuse be feeling? Why is it difficult to leave an abusive relationship?
There are many practical and psychological barriers to ending an abusive relationship:
- The victim may be overwhelmed by fear of harm to themselves or to children/family members/friends. They may also be fearful that they will not be believed if they tell people what is happening
- Belief that the abusive partner will change because they show remorse and promise to stop the abusive behaviour
- Feeling responsible for the abuse and guilty about leaving
- Financial, practical or emotional dependence on the abuser
- Fear that the abuser will take the children away or that the children will be emotionally harmed by the loss of a parent (even if that parent is abusive)
- Feelings of shame, guilty or embarrassment
- Fear of being alone and/or having nowhere to go
It takes a great deal of courage to leave someone who controls and intimidates you.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) is often called ‘Clare’s Law’ after the domestic homicide of Clare Woods in 2009.
The aim of Clare’s Law is to help individuals make informed choices on whether to continue a relationship if their partner has a history of abuse. Support will be given to assist in these decisions.
Clare’s Law allows any individual the right to ask the police if they feel their partner may have a history of abuse which poses a risk to them. Any third party can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member.
Once a Clare’s Law application has been made, police and partner agencies will carry out a range of checks. If these reveal a record of abusive offences, or suggest a risk of violence or abuse, the police will consider sharing this information
If it is decided a disclosure should be made, this only will be made to the person at risk. The police will not inform the person at risk who requested the information.
Any disclosure will be made in person – for safety reasons the disclosure is not made in writing and no documentation will be given.
How to make an application
- Phone 101 (the non-emergency police number)
- Visit a local police station
- If you believe there to be an immediate risk of harm phone 999
What if my friend is the abuser?
It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. You may not even want to admit that this person is being abusive. But remember, when you remain silent or make excuses for someone’s behaviour, you are condoning the abuse.
Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change, there are ways you can encourage them to change their behaviour. It is not easy for people to admit that their abusive behaviour is a choice and accept responsibility for it. They may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the abuse. Do not support the abuse in any way. Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help your friend or family member recognise that their behaviour is abusive.
- Your friend may try to blame the victim for the abuse. Do not support these feelings or help justify the abuse
- Help your abusive friend focus on the victim’s feelings and the serious harm they are experiencing. Do not support your friend’s efforts to minimise their behaviour
- Do not ignore abuse you see or hear about. Your silence helps the abusive person deny that their behaviour is wrong
- Convince your friend that getting professional help is important. There is more information at Are you worried about your behaviour?