How to Help & Support Someone Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Abusive relationship support

Being close to a victim of abuse can be equally traumatic & you may want to help them leave. You might be unsure on how to approach the situation or what you can do to support them. This guide provides help and guidance in ways that you can help.

Why do victims struggle to escape abuse themselves?

There are many reasons why a victim struggles to escape form an abusive relationship. It may seem like the only viable option especially when there are obstacles with finance or finding a safe place to stay. The following are some of the factors which may prevent a victim from leaving;

  • The victim fears the abuser may harm or kill them
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • Living in hope that the abuser will change
  • Confusion, the abuser using manipulation to maintain their control over the victim
  • Cultural or religious beliefs which do not support the idea of separation
  • Believing it’s better for the children to have both parents present, despite the abuse.

How can I help someone leave their abuser?

It can be extremely distressing knowing someone is involved in an abusive relationship. Whether it is someone you know or a stranger, you would want to help. This can be difficult if the victim has not been open about their experiences, but there will always be ways in which you can assist. You can sometimes encourage victims to talk about their experience by being sensitive and using a non-judgmental approach and tone. Listen to the victim and acknowledge the difficulties that they are facing and remind them of their strength by talking about this experience. Don’t try to blame them for staying in the relationship, this will just push them away. When the victim feels they can confide in you, you can help them to reach out to other resources for help and support.

Understand & sympathise or they may deny your concerns or not listen

Victims in abusive relationships experience emotional complexities which can be difficult to understand, these complexities are part of the abuse. The abuser will go to any lengths to maintain control over their victim, this includes using manipulation tactics. You may find it extremely frustrating seeing a loved one or someone you know going through this ordeal but not acting upon your advice or denying your concerns. You will need to be very understanding and patient, the victim will still be under the control of the abuser and may need help and time to acknowledge the abusive relationship.

Help them gain financial independence.

The manipulation of financial resources is one of the main forms of control over the victim, restricting their ability to access safety and independence. The victim may feel they have no choice but to live with the abuser. It is important for you to support the victim and take care of their physical and emotional well-being whilst helping them gain financial independence. Remind them of their strength and the importance of taking financial responsibility. Help the victim to reach out to organisations who can guide them further.

Seek external help from professionals

When you are trying to help a victim of abuse, you may find they could benefit from professional support. This could mean accompanying them to visit their GP if they have been physically or emotionally hurt or you may want the help the victim contact organisations who are able to provide counselling services. 

These professionals are trained in helping the victim to understand what they have been through and can offer further support and guidance.

Ensure they have a safe space to go, short AND long term

You may be able to provide safe temporary accommodation to help the victim escape the abusive relationship. However if you are unable to do this, there will be organisations who will be able to provide details of refuge shelters. Safe long term accommodation will depend on the victims’ situation, for example the victim may be able to use their legal rights to remain in the matrimonial home and for the abuser to leave or you may need to contact your local authority to help the victim with their housing needs.

Be confidential in your communications

It’s important for the victim to be able to confide in their support network. Lack of trust will push them away. When you assure the victim of confidentiality, they will be more willing to access resources for support and disclose the true extent of the abuse. Most professionals understand the importance of confidentiality as this will be mandatory by virtue of their employment.  These individuals are under a duty to have a patient or client confidentiality policy in place.

Talk and listen to them

The right help and support from people they trust is invaluable for the victim of abuse. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what the victim has experienced when you are not in that situation yourself. However be careful not to say anything that would damage the victims confidence any further, it is important that you listen without judging or criticising. By talking to the victim in an encouraging and supporting tone, you will help build the victims confidence, making them feel stronger in their decision making.

Learn about their situation

Educating yourself about the victim’s abuse situation can be very useful for you and the victim. Abuse can take form in many ways, unfortunately sometimes it is not always clear and may be subtle. In any event recognising and acknowledging abuse is key. When you become aware of what is happening, you are then able to think of ways to deal with the situation. Encourage the victim to educate themselves too, by understanding their situation they will be in a better position to help themselves.   

Be free and contactable for emergencies

Talk to the victim about ways you are able to offer help, both physically and emotionally. Be honest about your availability and how and when you can offer this support. Discuss a plan for emergencies, this could be a code word or another signal asking for immediate help. Let the victim know you are there to help them and they are not alone.

Look out for yourself

Helping a victim of abuse can be difficult, stressful and frightening, remember to look after yourself and get support too. It is important not put yourself in a position where you are at risk of harm by the abuser. Whilst you are helping the victim, ensure you have some safety measures in place for yourself. You may want to speak to someone you trust to ensure someone is aware of what is happening. Alternatively there are many organisations who are committed to providing advice and guidance for people in your situation, give them a call.

Things to say that may help encourage discussion and positive action

Remember your support can make a difference to a victim of abuse, how you respond to their situation is very important. The right approach and attitude can encourage the victim to talk about the abuse and be willing to access resources for support. Here are some ideas of things you can say;

  • How do you feel about this situation?
  • Can I do anything to help?
  • I’m here to support you with any decision you make
  • Although I am concerned about you, I have to respect your decision
  • What do you think you should do

Things NOT to say

If the victim feels you are judging or criticising them, they may feel too scared to talk about their experience again. The victim may no longer feel they can confide in you and decide to stay in the abusive relationship. The following are examples of things not to say;

  • Why do you put up with this?
  • You should’ve left a long time ago
  • How can you let someone treat you that way?
  • I wouldn’t put up with it
  • How can you still love this person?

Remember some of these comments can suggest that the victim is to be blamed for the abuse, this will not help.

Assist in reporting the issue and legal matters

Another way of supporting the victim would be offering to give evidence as a witness. The victim may have decided to take legal action or reported to the police, in any event your evidence will help. It may be difficult for the victim to remember dates and times, so make sure to take down your own notes of incidents you have witnessed. Remind the victim of their choice to report the abuse and making their own decisions, do not try and pressure them to do anything. Remember your role is to provide support, not to make decisions on the victim’s behalf.

A few words from the Criminal Injuries Helpline

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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