How To Support a Friend Experiencing Relationship Violence
Chances are we all know someone who’s experienced relationship violence. Almost three in 10 women and one in 10 men have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner一and that doesn’t even account for people who are non-binary.
If you're the friend of a survivor, you play a unique and valuable role in their life. You can provide immeasurable support as an educated ally. Keep reading for some of the major myths, signs, and ways to help these friends.
Myths About Relationship Violence
There are many myths out there about relationship violence, and that can cause victims to feel alone and misunderstood when they finally confide in someone. It's important to first educate yourself so you can help your friend feel supported, understood, and validated if they come to you for help.
Myth 1: Only women are survivors, and only men are perpetrators.
Fact 1: People of all genders can be survivors and perpetrators. It’s important to recognize this and believe your friends when they come to you.
Myth 2: Relationship violence is only physical, or it’s only serious when it’s physical.
Fact 2: Relationship violence can also be mental, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual, pet-related, and more. These are all dangerous and terrifying acts of abuse that can lead to death.
Myth 3: Survivors should just leave violent relationships.
Fact 3: Leaving a violent relationship is actually the most dangerous time for a survivor. Leaving can entail many complications we don’t always consider. The survivor may not have a place to go because their abuser isolated them and took their money. Or the abuser may have threatened the survivor and their kids.
Signs of Relationship Violence
Relationship violence is broken up into several categories to help us better recognize its signs. You can find more categories of abuse on the The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website; however, neither list is all-inclusive because so many different types of violent acts exist.
- Bruises or cuts
- Broken bones, fractures, or sprains
- Wearing long clothes in the summer
- Low self-esteem
- Being humiliated in front of others
- Cancelling plans often
- Discussing a sexual experience they repeatedly said no to, didn’t feel comfortable with, caused them unwanted pain, etc.
- Not working much or at all
- Not having much or any money to spend as they please
- Saying their partner hurt their credit score
Helpful Strategies for Helping Survivor Friends
There are ways to support your friend both materialistically and emotionally. Below are some ways to do so, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website. Just ask for permission first, and keep in mind that giving them space, power, and autonomy is crucial, especially since their abuser stripped that away from them.
- Help them prepare a “to-go” bag in case of an emergency. Make sure it includes important documents, a prepaid phone, food, medication, etc.
- Work with them to identify a support network that can help with transportation, health care, food, housing, and other needs
- Help them document abuse using evidence, such as dates and pictures
- Validate their emotions and support their decisions, even if you don’t agree or understand
- Help them create a safety plan for different situations, whether that’s trying to leave or trying to survive the situation
- Offer to attend appointments with them, whether it's to a doctor, lawyer, or shelter
- Don’t guilt, shame, or blame them
Ultimately, remember that you have a powerful role in supporting friends struggling with relationship violence. I urge you to do what you can while taking care of yourself too.