What to do if your friend or family member is experiencing intimate partner violence

Many of us know, or think we might know, a person who is in an abusive relationship. But we can always come up with reasons to ignore our discomfort and hope the problem will solve itself. Here are some common reasons why people don't break the silence on intimate partner violence:

"I might get hurt...or make this worse for the victim."

You do not need to physically intervene. And the only thing that can make this worse for the victim is for their torment to be ignored by those of us in a position to support them.

"If she/he wants to stay in such a lousy situation, that's her problem."

Victims are trapped in intimate partner violence by a number of factors: deep fear, lack of financial support, love, loyalty, cultural and family values, and the depression and hopelessness that constant abuse can cause. Also, victims know that abuse doesn't stop just because they leave. In fact, the danger increases for many victims when they do leave. Imagining that a person is free to leave any time absolves us, but does not help them. Nobody can make the personal and painful decisions for them, but you can be there to support them.

"Poking my nose in will cost me their friendship...and they doen't seem to want to talk about it."

Intimate partner violence could cost your friend their life. Talking about their situation isn't easy for either of you. They may fee shame and guilt, so you need to be tactful, open, and non-judgmental. They may not respond the first time. They has to decide what's safe and can't be rushed in to action. If they hear your open-ended offer to put them in contact with an intimate partner violence hotline when they choose, they'll fell safe coming back to you.

Here is an example of what to say.

It doesn't sound very dramatic, but it can make a dramatic difference: "I'm concerned about you. Are you okay? Do you want to talk to me about it? ... It's not your fault. You didn't deserve it ... I understand ... I'm not going to share this with anyone else. I'm not going to tell you what to do. What you do is fine with me. You know, there's a number to call to find out more about this. Do you want to call them now? Shall I give you the number? ... That's okay. Just know that I have the number, if you ever want it. I do care.

Are there things NOT to say?

It doesn't help to start planning a rescue or escape. Ask, rather than tell them what YOU think is going on. And don't start criticizing their partner, however much you may feel they deserve it. (The best way to show you are on their side is by staying out of the business of the relationship itself. If they were able to confront their abuser and leave, they would already have done it.) The idea is to gently break through the isolation they are living in and offer a bridge they can use when they choose to.