Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Helping a Victim

  • If someone that you know is in a dangerous or potentially dangerous relationship there are some things you can do to help. One thing that you have to keep in mind, is that you are not there to tell them what to do, all you can do is help them see the abuse for what it is and help them see options. The worst thing you can do is tell them what to do or that they have to leave the relationship. This will only alienate them from you and they won't feel that they can come to you for support anymore.
  •  First it is important to remember that they are not victims of domestic violence, but survivors. Victims are not around to tell their stories; survivors have survived the abuse.
  • Let them know that you care and are willing to listen. Encourage the victim to talk about what they are feeling, and listen without interrupting. Don't force them to talk about the issue, but allow them to confide at their own pace. If they do choose to talk about the abuse, ask them how and what questions, not why questions.
  • Validate and normalize their feelings. Let them know what they are feeling is normal for the situation that they are in.
  • Be empathetic, but do not pity them.
  • It is very important that you believe what they are saying. It is very hard for someone who has been a victim of domestic violence to talk about what has happened to them and they may not ever tell again if they are not taken seriously.
  • Be non-judgmental. People often tend to unintentionally judge someone who is in a violent relationship. It is important that you not say things such as " If I were you, I would leave." You do not know what you would do if you were them.
  • Never blame the person for what has happened to them. Never ask them what they did to make the abuser mad. They need to be reminded constantly that nothing they did caused the abuse. The abuser chose to be abusive. 
  • Acknowledge their strengths. Often we think people who stay in violent relationships are weak, when in actuality they are very strong. It takes a lot of strength to be able to survive an abusive relationship. They can use this strength when they are ready to leave the relationship.
  • Let him/her know that even if they are not ready to get out of the relationship, you will still be there for support
  • Confront them with the danger that they are in. Help them make a safety plan for themselves and their children. Contact your local domestic violence shelter for information on making a safety plan. 
  • Offer them support but do not try to rescue them. Do not do everything for them. If you try to rescue the victim, it only increases their stress levels, and may add to their feeling of inadequacy. You do not want to give them the impression that you think they are helpless.
  • Encourage them to make choices and to take back control of their life. Up until this point their abuser made all the decision for them. 
  • Point out the positives. He/she survived the abuse.
  • Never tell them that you know how they feel or that you understand, because no one can completely understand what they are going through.
  • Offer options but respect their choices. Become informed about domestic violence and your local domestic violence shelter. Call your local domestic violence shelter to see what options are available in your area.
  • If the victim does decide to leave the relationship, keep up the support. Do not be upset with them if they return. Each person has his or her own reasons for returning.
  • What if the abuser left the victim? Shouldn't the victim be relieved?
  • Not necessarily…this can be devastating to the victim. Even though the victim didn't want to be abused, and at times may have secretly wished the abuser would leave. The victim still has feelings for the abuser. Victims are accustomed to having decisions made for them by the abuser. They are also used to high levels of stress and when that stress is suddenly absent the victim's anxiety level is raised. This can be an overwhelming time for the victim. Don't be surprised if the victim goes through a severe mourning process. This to the victim is like a death. It's the death of a relationship, and one they are never prepared for.

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