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 724-836-1122 or 1-888-832-2272.
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
• 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 724-836-1122 or 1-888-832-2272.
• Instead of telling a victim of domestic violence what to do, encourage her (or him) 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.
• She* wants to give the abuser another chance, hoping things will change.
• She believes his behavior is her fault or that it is her responsibility to stand by her partner no matter what.
• Because she has been isolated by the abuser from supports; she has no money of her own, no job, no skills,
no place to go.
• She knows the kids will miss their dad.
• She is afraid he will take the children or that he will report her as an "unfit mother."
• She believes that all relationships are like this.
• She has turned to people for help but no one believed her, or they told her it was her fault or that she was
• The abuser has powerful friends.
• She is embarrassed. She believes she has "allowed" this to happen, or that she should have been able to fix
her partner, or that she was a poor judge of character. She is embarrassed to admit that the people who
warned her were right. A male victim may be particularly embarrassed to admit that his partner is abusing him.
• She wants to hang on until she can prove to the abuser that she can make decent spaghetti sauce or keep the
kids quiet during the football game.
• She has been stripped of self-esteem to the point where she feels she can't make it on her own.
• She is afraid of being killed. It is important to note that the most lethal time for a battered woman may be
when she takes action to end the relationship.
*Since the majority of domestic violence victims are female, we have used "she" throughout this list. These same dynamics could apply for male victims of domestic violence.
• 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
• 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.
Women 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 she wore, what she drank, what she was doing there, and what she did to "lead him on." A male victim has the additional burden of being labeled weak or having his masculinity questioned.
A rapist is responsible for his actions. Rape does NOT result from men 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 she turns to for help and support.
Learn About Types of Abuse: