What not to say
In the past we have talked about what friends and family members can say to someone affected by domestic abuse, but it is just as important to know what NOT to say.
If someone confides in you that they are experiencing domestic violence and abuse, it will probably have taken them a while to build up the courage to do so, making it really important that you give them all the help you can and not lead them to regret trusting you.
Here’s a few things you shouldn’t say with brief explanations as to why.
“That doesn’t sound like the “Paul” I know!”
Reacting in this way suggests that you are doubting what your friend has said and could make her doubt herself even more. In a way you are adding to the abuse and could even be backing up what the abuser has said: “Nobody will believe you, they’ll think you’re mad.”
Domestic abuse usually happens behind closed doors – why would you be aware he behaved in that way?
You must believe what your friend has told you and let her know that you do.
“Everyone goes through bad patches”
There is a big difference between a “bad patch” and domestic abuse. Saying every couple has difficult times might feel like the obvious thing to say, and you might feel it would reassure your friend, but it will actually have the opposite effect.
If you think about it, in saying this you are again doubting what you have been told and you are also minimising the abuse. Domestic abuse is not normal or acceptable and you should not suggest what your friend is going through is either of these things.
“Why don’t you just leave him?”
This is often the first thing that comes out of a friend’s mouth when abuse has been revealed. If only life were that simple. Research suggests that it takes someone affected by abuse more than 30 incidents before they report, and some women live with it for years.
Just reporting or confiding takes a huge amount of courage, let alone walking out.
There’s a long list of things that prevent those affected from walking out. The impact on children, losing their home and threats of what a perpetrator will do if she tries to leave.
What you need to do is ask what they would like you to do to help and if organising leaving is one of them, help them to plan it in the safest way possible. Organisations like Broxtowe Women’s Project is always happy to talk to friends and family if they need advice.
“Was he just drunk?”
Alcohol, a bad day at work or a football result do not cause domestic abuse. There is no excuse. Abusers are entirely responsible for their behaviour.
Never suggest to a friend that there is an excuse. Listen to them and support them.
“What did you do to make him behave like that?
This instantly suggests the friend is to blame in some way for what has happened to her.
Abusers often have an impact on a person’s self-confidence and esteem and may even tell them it is their fault.
Responsibility lies only with the abuser; reassure your friend it is not her fault.
“If it happens again, text me”
It might be that the abuser checks your friend’s mobile phone and her emails, so conversations between you about what is happening should be in person and in private.
Don’t create any evidence of her seeking help or that you are involved in supporting her.
“Why do you let him get away with it?”
This again suggests your friend is to blame, that she could prevent what is happening to her. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and abuse or violence of any kind is never the fault of the target person.
It’s important to tell your friend she is not alone, and sadly that there are many other people in the same situation. Stress again that the abuse is not their fault and let them know you’re there to support them in whatever ways they want you to.
What you can do
Having explained what not to say, here’s a quick reminder of the positive things you can do to help someone affected by domestic abuse:
- Listen, try to understand, and take care not to blame them
- Give them time to talk
- Allow them to make their own decisions
- Don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready
- If they have sustained injuries, offer to go with them to the hospital or their doctor
- Help them report the abuse to the police if they want to do so
- Provide details about organisations such as Broxtowe Women’s Project that offer help to abused women and their children
- Let them use your address and/or telephone number to get information about support, housing etc delivered indirectly
- Contact an organisation like BWP yourself for advice on what a friend can do
Above all, do not put yourself in a dangerous situation. Don’t offer to talk to the abuser and don’t let the abuser see you as a “troublemaker” who is interfering in their relationship.
You’ll find a bit more advice in our earlier “Friend” blog.