“How Do I Help Someone I Don’t Know?”
A community of support is necessary to help a survivor reach safety and peace. Even if you don’t know the person experiencing dating abuse, you have the ability to become a source of support. Carefully intervening can have a positive impact on someone in an abusive relationship and may be the difference between safety and danger. Do your part and speak up against abuse.
What Do I Need to Know?
Abuse is a pattern of behavior used to gain and maintain power and control in a relationship. It can take many forms and isn’t always easy to recognize. Besides physical abuse, people may experience verbal/emotional abuse, digital abuse, sexual abuse or a combination of these different abusive tactics. If you witness an interaction that seems controlling or strange, you may be seeing red flags for abuse in a relationship. You can look for warning signs of abuse to help you identify if a situation is, in fact, abusive. If you’re not sure whether what you’re seeing is abusive or not, feel free to talk with one of our peer advocates. We’d be happy to help you assess and come up with a game plan for possible steps to take.
Sometimes victims and survivors may believe that abuse is normal, so one of the most important things you can do for someone in an abusive relationship is let them know that abuse isn’t okay and it’s not their fault. You might say things like, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that” or “You deserve to be treated with respect.”
Don’t Mind Your Own Business
Dating abuse is a scary and isolating experience. If you witness someone going through it and don’t know what to do, try to imagine how you’d want to be helped. Reaching out to a victim can provide them with support that they may not be receiving anywhere else. Whether it’s a classmate or a stranger you pass on your morning run, if you witness someone being verbally or physically abused, it’s okay to speak up.
However, it’s important to recognize that they likely have mixed emotions and may suffer from feelings of guilt, self-blame, confusion or fear. There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, so it’s important to respect their feelings and choices and never tell them what they should do or how they should handle their situation. They know their situation best. By showing them respect, you remind them that they are worthy of it and you may help make them feel more comfortable reaching out for support in the future.
If you don’t feel comfortable calling out the abuse in front of an abusive partner, you can still disrupt the situation by asking to borrow notes for class or striking up a conversation about anything. That could help keep things from escalating and give the victim a chance to seek help if they want it.
Try to Speak to the Victim Alone
If possible, finding a time to speak to the victim when their partner isn’t nearby could be safest for you, and also for them. Besides avoiding aggravating the abuser and possibly causing them to lash out at you or their partner, keeping your support secret can help prevent the abusive partner from distancing their partner from you and from your help. Abusive people often isolate their partner from anyone they feel might encourage their partner to end the relationship, so if the abuser recognizes you as a threat to their power, they may take steps to keep their partner away from you.
For example, if this person is a neighbor, you might consider asking them if their internet is down/electricity is out/if you can borrow something, which could provide an opportunity to check out the situation and speak with them alone. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, another idea is to put fliers for loveisrespect or the National Domestic Violence Hotline on doors, cars, in mailboxes or in a prominent spot in the neighborhood or apartment complex where you live (such as a bulletin board or laundry area). This might prompt someone to reach out for help when they feel ready to do so.
Don’t Neglect Your Personal Safety
If the situation is physically violent or seems like it might become so, use caution when getting involved. If you don’t feel safe to intervene, even standing nearby and making it clear that you are watching and are a witness to what is happening can help. If you’re concerned for the victim’s immediate safety, stay back and call 911.