a Friend Who is Being Abused
of women are physically abused by their husbands, boyfriends
or intimate partners* each year. Chances are, someone you
know – your
mother, sister, friend, coworker or neighbor – is a victim
of domestic violence. Perhaps you feel your friend’s**
problem will work itself out. This is extremely unlikely.
Violence in relationships usually continues and often gets
worse over time if no action is taken to stop it. All intimate
relationships have problems; sometimes it is difficult for
others to decide when it is appropriate to intervene.
- Have you accepted her explanations for visible injuries,
such as black eyes, bruises, or broken bones? Do you tend
not to press her further about frequent “accidents” that
cause her to miss work?
- Does her partner exert an unusual amount of control
over her activities? Are you reluctant to discuss his control
over family finances, the way she dresses, and her contact
with friends and family?
- If her partner ridicules her publicly, do you
ignore his behavior or join the laughter at her expense?
Why are you unwilling to stand up for her? Do you sense the
volatile nature of his comments?
- Have you noticed changes in her or her children’s
behavior? Does she appear frightened or exhausted?
Maybe you feel like:
- I shouldn’t get involved
in a private family matter. Domestic violence – also
called spouse abuse, battering, or intimate partner
violence – is
not just a family problem. It is a crime with serious
repercussions for your friend, her children, and the
- The violence can’t
really be that serious. Domestic
violence includes threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking,
sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It is rarely a
one-time occurrence and usually escalates in frequency and
severity. Even if the violence is “only” verbal,
it can have seriously affect the victim’s health and
well-being, so any act of domestic violence is something
to take seriously. And domestic violence can be fatal. Every
5 days a Virginian is murdered by an intimate partner (Office
of the Chief Medical Examiner, 2003).
- She must
be doing something to provoke his violence. A
victim of battering is never to blame for another person’s
choice to use violence against her. Problems exist in any
relationship, but the use of violence to resolve them is
- If it’s so bad, why doesn’t
she just leave? For most of us, a decision to
end a relationship is not easy. A battered woman’s
emotional ties to her partner may be strong, supporting
her hope that the violence will end. She may be financially
dependent and in leaving she will likely face severe economic
hardship. She may not know about available resources and
social and justice systems may have been unhelpful to her
in the past. Religious, cultural or family pressures may
make her think it’s her duty to keep her marriage
together. When she’s tried to leave in the past,
her partner may have used violence to stop her. These are
just some of the many compelling reasons that may keep
a woman in an abusive relationship.
she care about what’s happening
to her children? Your friend is probably doing
her best to protect her children from violence. She may
feel that the abuse is only directed at her and does
not yet realize its effects on children. She may believe
her children need a father, or lacks the resources to
support them on her own. The children may beg her to
stay, not wanting to leave their home or friends. She
may fear that if she leaves she will lose custody of
- I know him – I really don’t
think he could hurt anyone. Many abusers are
not violent in other relationships and can be charming
in social situations, yet be extremely violent in the
privacy of the home.
- He must be sick. Battering
is a learned behavior, not a mental illness. An abuser’s
experience as a child and the messages he gets from
society tell him that violence is an easy way to get
power and control over her partner’s behavior.
Men who batter choose this behavior and viewing them
as “sick” wrongly excuses
them from taking responsibility for it.
- I think
he has a drinking problem. Could that be the cause of violence? Alcohol
or drug use may intensify violent behavior, but it does
not cause battering. Men who batter typically make excuses
for their violence, claiming a loss of control due to alcohol/drug
use or extreme stress. Battering, however, does not represent
a loss of control, but a way of achieving it.
can she still care for someone who abuses her? Chances
are, the abuser is not always abusive. He may show remorse
for his violence after it happens and promise to change.
Your friend understandably hopes for such changes. Their
relationship probably involves good times, bad times,
and in-between times.
- If she wanted my help,
she’d ask for it. Your
friend may not feel comfortable confiding in you, feeling
you may not understand her situation. Talk to her about battering
in a general way. Tell her you’re concerned about women
who get abused and that you do not blame women for violence.
What You Can Do:
- Lend a listening ear. Tell
your friend that you care and are willing to listen. Don’t
force the issue, but allow her to confide in you at her
own pace. Never blame her for what is happening or underestimate
her fear of potential danger. Focus on supporting her right
to make her own decisions.
- Become Informed. Find
out all the facts you can about domestic violence. Call
the local program(s) in your area that assist victims of
domestic violence. Look for books about domestic violence
in your local library. Visit the Virginia Sexual & Domestic
Violence Action Alliance website at www.vsdvallliance.org and/or
call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline
at 1.800.838.8238 (v/tty) for more information.
her to community services. Gather
information about domestic violence programs in your area.
These programs offer safety, advocacy, support, legal information,
and other needed services. If your friend asks for advice
on what she should do, share the information you’ve
gathered with her privately. Let her know she is not alone
and people are available to help her. Encourage her to
seek the assistance of domestic violence advocates. Assure
her that they will keep information about her confidential.
Many battered women first seek the advice of marriage counselors,
psychiatrists or members of the clergy. Not all helping
professionals, however, are fully aware of the special
circumstances of domestic violence. If the first person
she contacts is not helpful, encourage her to look elsewhere.
on her strengths. Battered women
live with emotional as well as physical abuse. Your friend
is probably continually told by the abuser that she is
a bad woman, a bad wife, or a bad mother. She may believe
she can’t do anything right and that there really
is something wrong with her. Give her emotional support
to believe she is a good person. Help her examine her strengths
and skills. Emphasize that she deserves a life that is
free from violence.
- If she decides
to leave. Help
your friend make a plan to be safe. She may want to
call a local domestic violence hotline. Domestic violence
programs can help her look at her options and make a plan
to be as safe as possible. Battered women usually face
the greatest risk when they try to leave their abusive
relationships. If the batterer feels he has lost control,
he may become very dangerous.
- Help her find
a safe place. If
your friend decides to leave, a domestic violence shelter
may be the safest place to go. Unfortunately shelters sometimes
have enough room for all the women and children who need
their help. Your friend may need to rely on family and
friends for temporary housing.
* This document focuses on violence against women in
heterosexual relationships, but violence can occur in any
relationship, including gay and lesbian relationships.
** This material uses the term “friend,” but
the information provided is also useful to family members,
neighbors and coworkers of battered women.
This document has been adapted
several times by several organizations and originated with: “Helping
The Battered Woman, A Guide For Family And Friends,” a
1989 publication of the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project.