Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Help a Domestic Abuse Victim Leave the Abusive Partner

It's surprising what it takes to help a domestic abuse victim escape the abuser. The situation can be so confusing! Learn what you can & can't expect or do.

Is It Even Possible?

Is it possible to help a domestic abuse victim? How could you, a bystander to your loved one’s abusive relationship, help? Is there a way to help her without inviting the abuser into your life?

  • Could you bribe the abuser to behave differently? Could you beat the abuser into repentance? No. First of all, these actions are illegal. Secondly, you can’t help a domestic abuse victim from behind bars or if the abuser presses charges or gets a restraining order against you.
  • Is it possible to force the victim to leave the abusive relationship? You shouldn’t try to bribe or force the victim either.
  • Is it possible to convince the victim that he or she is being abused? Brainwashed even? Maybe, but until the victim is ready to put a stop to the abuse, she fears leaving the abusive partner more than living in the abusive relationship. She could fear for her safety after leaving, being unable to make it on her own, or any number of things that keep her stuck.

As you probably already know, sometimes she knows and says that she’s suffocating under the weight of the abuse. Sometimes she’ll even want to leave her abuser and come to you for help. But how many times has she asked for your help and then turned it down last minute? Or do what you’ve advised but come back angry at YOU for suggesting it? Or made an excuse for her abuser saying that you can’t possibly understand how much he loves her or she loves him?

To help a domestic abuse victim, you have to be strong, resilient, and without judgment. That’s a tall order for anyone.

So, How Can You Help a Domestic Abuse Victim?

1. Take Care of Your Self!

When you help a domestic abuse victim, the stress can harm your physical and mental health. Many people help others to the severe detriment of their own selves. If you really want to help a domestic abuse victim, you must take care of yourself–you must find a way to help her without compromising your safety, financial security, or mental health. There are many ways to help from an emotional distance. Protecting yourself and your family from the abuse that endangers the victim will save your mental health and could save your physical health, too. By taking care of yourself first, you will be strong when the time for you to help arrives.

The more often you help, the more often she may return. The more often she returns, the more helpless, drained, and used you may feel. It can take several attempts before a victim finally leaves the abusive partner, no matter how much you are willing to help or already helped in the past.

The vast majority of domestic abuse victims do not intentionally take advantage of those who want to help. However, by asking for help and then not using your help, or even taking money with the intent to leave and then not leaving, abuse victims can make you feel used. How many times have you felt used by the victim you’re trying to help?

The best thing you can do to help a domestic abuse victim is to take care of yourself and your family. Make sure you lead a healthy emotional life. Start by learning how to set personal boundaries to help you deal with an abuse victim’s confusion, denial, and fear. After you’ve insulated yourself from the negative energies created by abuse, then you can consider reasonable ways to help a domestic abuse victim without sacrificing what’s important to you (such as your safety, health, and savings).

2. Be Available to Your Loved One (Within Reason)

Tell her you believe that she’s abused. If the abuse victim does not come to you first, you could give her a pamphlet or show her a website. Tell her you’re concerned, and be honest about your fears (Verbal Abuse Symptoms In Long-Term Relationships). Don’t argue with her if she says you’re crazy. Just say, “Maybe I am…but I am also here for you no matter what.”

Believe her. Many domestic abuse victims reach out for help one time. When she opens up to you, believe her, no matter how outrageous (or slight) you feel her claims to be. There is a time for questioning later. For now, just believe her.

Listen to her vent without offering solutions. This will be hard. You will want to tell her what to do because she seems so confused, ill-informed, or lost. Keep your mouth shut. That’s what listening means.

Make a list of her wonderful characteristics and qualities. Keep the list of positive character traits handy so you can remind her of how great she is when she calls or is hurting from what her abuser said.  When you are able to quickly tell her why you love her, the sentiment has more power. For example, “Oh, Vicky, I love you so much. Your compassion for others amazes me!” Or, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, sweetheart. Remember I love you and know I can trust you.”

Do not judge her. She is not stupid or insane; if anything, she may be brainwashed by her abuser and/or suffer under the cumulative side effects of abuse. As much as she believes you, she disbelieves in herself. My Abusive Marriage…and what I’m doing in it will help you understand her turmoil. There is a way out, but she has to be the one to take it.

3. Have information on hand for her when she opens up to you about the abuse.

Keep the number for domestic abuse hotlines handy. You could call a hotline if she comes over and doesn’t know what to do. You can call the hotlines to get answers to help you deal with her situation, to vent about how helpless or angry you feel, and to speak to someone who really knows what they’re talking about when it comes to abusive relationships.

Research how to recognize the subtle forms of mental, emotional, and verbal abuse so you can share knowledge when possible. I put together a worksheet to help recognize abuse in relationships (download it here). You can also check youtube for videos about people’s experience with abuse, read stories about abuse, or the book, My Abusive Marriage…and what i’m doing in it to get a full picture of the formidable enemy your loved one fights.

Get a safety plan from a domestic abuse help center. We have a great safety plan here on Verbal Abuse Journals at Safety Planning for Domestic Violence and Abuse Victims. You can give it to her or show it to her and let her know you have it and will help her fill it out. If she devises her own plan to deal with abuse, then help her execute it if she asks. Help if and only if you’re willing to do what she’s asking you to do! Don’t tell her you will help in the way she wants you to help if you can’t or don’t feel right doing it her way. Don’t say you will help but harbor resentment for it. You can always tell her no, then help her to find a different solution.

You could share information with her through social networks or email. But please be careful with this! Her abuser could have access to her personal accounts. Abusers often stalk their victims even when they live in the same house! “Getting her into trouble” with her abuser causes stress and abuse for your loved one. No matter your good intention, you could push her away. Make sure your friend wants your help before flooding them with it.

Remember that the only one who can end the abuse is the victim of the abuse. You cannot help her with that in any way. She must do it for herself.

Featured photo by Toa Heftiba