How to Help a Friend
If someone you love has been affected by domestic or sexual abuse, it may be difficult to know how you can best support them. This guide is intended to steer you in the right direction. For further assistance, please call our hotline at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD Available).
You cannot save a domestic violence victim from abuse, but as a friend or family member, you may be able to offer both emotional and concrete support.
• Remember that the victim is not responsible for the abuser's behavior. Only the abuser is responsible.
• Be patient. It is natural for a victim of domestic violence to hope things will get better. It is normal for the victim to feel a tremendous sense of loss at recognizing the relationship will not get better. Accepting that loss may take time.
• It's okay to say that you have noticed the bruises, or that the person seems to be upset and you are concerned. Invite the victim to talk, but don't insist. When the victim does talk, listen - and believe what you hear.
• Look under "Abuse" or "Domestic Violence" or "Shelters" in your phone book so you can provide the number for the agency in your area. These agencies offer services that are both free and confidential. In Westmoreland County, PA, call Blackburn Center at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD Available).
• Instead of telling a victim of domestic violence what to do, encourage them to examine the available options. Talking things over with someone who is willing to listen may help the victim see the choices and consequences a little more clearly.
• Offer help, but only what you can deliver safely. Can you help plan an escape to a safe place? Provide transportation? Hold on to some of the victim's belongings in case they are needed in a hurry? Provide an emergency refuge for the victim's children?
• Understand that it is unrealistic to assure a victim of domestic violence that she will “feel so much better” after leaving. The first several months – or longer – may be very difficult. A victim who is prepared for reality is more likely to have a positive outcome.
• Try to keep yourself from saying "I'd never put up with that," or "If I were in your situation..." These comments may only add to the victim's feelings of failure and helplessness.
• Call the police if you hear or see violence taking place.
Always be aware that abusers can be very dangerous. Your own safety as well as the victim's could be at risk.
Why It's So Hard to Leave
Most victims eventually do leave, but for many, leaving - and staying away for good - is very hard. Here are some of the reasons.
• They want to give the abuser another chance, hoping things will change.
• They believe their abuser's behavior is their fault or that it is their responsibility to stand by their partner no matter what.
• Because they have been isolated by the abuser from supports; they have no money of her own, no job, no skills, no place to go.
• They know the kids will miss their other parent.
• They are afraid that their partner will take the children or that they will report her as an "unfit parent."
• They believe that all relationships are like this.
• They have turned to people for help but no one believed them, or they told them it was their fault or that they were overreacting.
• The abuser has powerful friends.
• They are embarrassed. They believe they has "allowed" this to happen, or that they should have been able to fix their partner, or that they were a poor judge of character. They were embarrassed to admit that the people who warned them were right.
• They want to hang on until they can prove to the abuser that they can make decent spaghetti sauce or keep the kids quiet during the football game.
• They have been stripped of self-esteem to the point where they feel they can't make it on her own.
• They afraid of being killed. It is important to note that the most lethal time for a victim of abuse may be when they take action to end the relationship.
• If someone tells you they've been raped or sexually assaulted, remain calm. A violent display of shock or outrage may frighten the victim.
• Believe what the victim tells you, and let the victim decide what to do.
• If the victim is male, help him understand that what happened to him does not change his sexual orientation or make him less of a man if he expresses this concern.
• Understand that there is no "right" way to respond to a sexual assault. Let the victim cry, scream, remain silent.
• Assure the victim of your support, and maintain the victim's confidentiality.
• Give the victim the phone number for the nearest sexual violence counseling center, but let the victim decide when or whether to call. In Westmoreland County, PA, call Blackburn Center at 724-836-1122 or 1-888-832-2272.
• Don't insist that the victim talk about the assault – to you or anyone else.
• Avoid touching the victim without asking permission.
• Avoid saying that everything is (or is going to be) okay. The victim probably doesn't feel okay and may not feel okay for quite some time.
• Only make promises that you can keep. You cannot assure that the victim will never be hurt again or that the offender will be punished. You can help the victim explore ways to feel safer.
• Do not confront (or threaten to confront) the offender. This could be dangerous for both you and the victim and can add additional trauma, especially if the offender is a friend or family member. This action may also make the victim feel responsible for you.
Don't Blame the Victim
A study conducted by the National Crime Victim Center indicates that it is common for rapists to continue raping until they are caught. What often keeps them from being caught is not poor police work, but rather the fact that so many sexual assaults are never reported.
Why? The answer is simple: victims have seen what happens when a rape is reported.
People know that when they report being raped, public reaction will probably be against them. The police, the press, attorneys and even friends and family will want to know what they wore, what they drank, what they was doing there, and what they did to "lead them on."
A rapist is responsible for his actions. Rape does NOT result from a person not being able to control their need for sex. Rapists use sexual violence as a way to achieve power and control over another individual. Rapists are not motivated by a need for sex. Humans are capable of controlling how they choose to act on or express sexual needs and urges.
Nobody deserves to be raped. And a rape victim doesn’t deserve to be re-victimized by the professionals they turn to for help and support.
Learn About Types of Abuse: