When 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, we all need to be prepared to deal with the fact that it might happen to someone we love. If you suddenly found out that your sister was being abused by her loving, doting husband, how would you react?
DON’T SAY: I can’t believe he would do something like that, what did you do? Why would he hurt you?
Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often charming and sociable characters. They know how to manipulate people into thinking they are calm and reasonable. Your sister will not have seen this side to him; he was hardly going to begin the relationship in his true colours. Asking her what she did and why the abuse took place is justifying the act. There are no excuses for physical and emotional abuse. I have had people argue that “she deserved a slap” for her behaviour. Or “she made me do it”. Nobody makes an abuser do or feel anything; they allow themselves to feel a certain way because it is never their fault, somehow they are always the wronged party. However she might behave, the decent thing for him to do is walk away.
DO: Offer to listen, without judgement or advice. However much you may want to protect your friend/family member, you cannot start telling them what to do. Chances are she is trying to leave a controlling situation, the last thing she will want is more orders. Instead, calmly offer your shoulder and listen. This might be the first time she has disclosed anything so you want to remain calm and in control. If you break down, she might feel she is burdening you. If she does ask for your help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 where they can advise you on how to plan around safety and advise on the steps she will need to take should she need to flee.
Remember: It has taken a lot of courage to break her silence. Confidentiality is key. You are there to buoy her spirits and offer reassurance that she is not alone. She might want an immediate solution, then again she might not. Relationships are complicated and there are bonds that run deep. He might be her abuser but he could also be her first love, the father of her children. She might just want him to seek help. You are not there to judge but to make life more bearable.
I have been approached once or twice by women who are dear to me. In these situations, I knew their partners, we all socialised together. Holding it together for them, kissing their abuser on the cheek when meeting, is difficult and requires strength and diplomacy. You can never lose sight of the trust your friend/family member has placed in you by confiding. Should they see past the façade, the consequences for your loved one could be devastating. Also, although you are trying to save the day here, don’t be a hero, you do not want to make yourself a target.
If you do find yourself involved in a situation where harm is imminent and your loved one needs to escape urgently, get together some essentials. Toiletries, passport, a change of clothes. Children’s favourite toys. Refuges are furnished and if she is not able to get away with more than what she is wearing, some refuges can make arrangements for provision and may also be able to enlist the help of the local police should she need to return to the property for the rest of her belongings. Ensure this is all done in a safe manner, if it is not possible then simply leave to another day.
As I have previously mentioned, the National Domestic Violence Helpline can help with queries. I am also here should you need additional support.