Watching a friend experience relationship abuse can be scary and frustrating. You may feel like you have no control of the situation and are unsure how to help…
You may want to consider the following advice on how to offer support:
- It is important that the person feels that they are believed. Make sure that you remain non-judgmental. People often blame themselves, feelings of guilt and shame are not uncommon, so it is important that they know that this is not their fault.
- Try to be supportive without giving advice. It is important that the individual can determine how to proceed and feel that they can make the decisions. Accept the person’s choice of what to do, it may be helpful to look at the options, then encourage independent decision making, even if you disagree.
- Don’t ask why the abuse is happening, this may lead to the person feeling they could have done something to prevent the violence or abuse – which they couldn’t.
- Look after yourself. It is important that you take care of yourself and seek support if needed. It is common to need support when supporting someone else.
- Be patient. They may not want to talk right now and you may feel that you are not doing enough but just being there may be all they need at the moment. It is important that you don’t force an individual to give you information, and that you give them time and space to make a decision that is right for them.
- Encourage and empower the individual to get support from professional services.
The majority of people in abusive relationships are aged between 16-24 years old. With so many young people affected by Violence and Abuse in their intimate relationships, it is important to know how you can be there for your friend if you think they might be caught in an abusive relationship. Whilst it is up to your friend to make the decision of leaving or staying in the relationship, you are still able to support them and help them stay safe.
Here are 6 tips to support your friend…
1. Help your friend recognise that they are in an abusive relationship
Set a time to talk where you will not be disturbed. Be open and honest when you tell your friend that you are worried about their safety or about their relationship. Let them know that what they are going through isn’t right and it is not what a healthy relationship should be like. Help them recognise that the abuse is not normal and they deserve better.
2. Be supportive
Reassure your friend that it is not their fault. Let them know that they are not alone and there are people ready to help. Keep in mind how tough it must be to talk about the abuse, so be sensitive. Let them know that you are there for them, and you won’t be going anywhere no matter what their decision is. Just by talking and being there for them, it already makes a difference: having someone who cares enough to ask about the abuse can help cope with the feelings of isolation.
3. Don’t be judgemental
It is difficult to see someone you care about go back into an abusive relationship or never leave. However, respect their choice. You have tried your best to help. Don’t place shame, blame or guilt on the friend. Even if the friend decides to stay, continue being supportive.
4. Encourage your friend to get involved in activities outside the relationship
This includes doing everyday activities with them, as well as trying to encourage them to go back into doing something they used to enjoy. For example, if they were in a sport team or part of a society, encourage them to go back to it. It allows them to have a sense of control and identity again.
5. Do not confront the abuser yourself
No matter how tempting it is, your confrontation can escalate the abuse or put yourself in danger. Instead, gently encourage your friend to explore additional support services that can protect them.
6. Encourage the friend to talk to someone who can help
Understand that you alone cannot rescue your friend. They have to be the one to decide it’s time to get help. However, with encouragement and options for support, your friend may decide that it is time to get help.
Not sure if your friend is experiencing relationship abuse?
The signs can often be difficult to detect because relationship abuse usually happens behind closed doors.
If you notice these warning signs, it’s worth reaching out to them:
- Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from normal activities, or feeling “down”
- Self-harming behaviours, thoughts of suicide, or suicidal behaviours
- Low self-esteem
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Anxiety or worry about situations that did not seem to cause anxiety in the past
- Avoiding specific situations or places
- Falling grades or withdrawing from classes
- Increase in drug or alcohol use
- Poor concentration and sleep disturbance
- Withdrawing from other relationships or activities, for example, spending less time with friends, leaving sports teams, or skipping lectures
- Saying that their partner doesn’t want them to engage in social activities or is limiting their contact with others
- Disclosing that sexual assault has happened before
- Any mention of a partner trying to limit their contraceptive options or refusing to use safer sexual practices, such as refusing to use condoms or not wanting them to use birth control
- Mentioning that their partner is pressuring them to do things that make them uncomfortable
- Signs that a partner controlling their means of communication, such as answering their phone or text messages or intruding into private conversations
- Visible signs of physical abuse, such as bruises or black eyes
There may also be physical indicators present that may be a warning sign. This includes:
- No explanation for injuries or inconsistency with the account of what happened
- Bruising, particularly to the thighs, buttocks and upper arms and marks on the neck
- Unusual difficulty in walking or sitting
- Frequent injuries
- Unexplained falls
- Subdued or changed behaviour in the presence of a particular person
- Signs of malnutrition
- Failure to seek medical treatment or frequent changes of GP
Often, abusive partners will try to cut the victim off from their support system. As someone outside of the relationship, you have the potential to notice warning signs that someone may be in an abusive relationship or at risk for sexual assault.
Evidence of any one indicator should not be taken as proof that abuse has taken place but if you have any doubts, set aside a time to talk with your friend and check that they are okay. For more information, please read ‘warning signs in college age adults’ by RAINN.
Remember, you are not alone. If you suspect someone you know has experienced relationship abuse you can talk to someone who is trained to help. It can be difficult to support someone experiencing relationship abuse. If you would like further advice about how to support a friend, please do not hesitate to contact the Disclosure Response Team. If you would like a to pass our online disclosure tool to your friend then they can reach out and get support.
WE KNOW, violence and abuse affects our students. IT’S NOT ON, and we are addressing it. WE CAN HELP, our Disclosure Response Team offer practical support. YOU CAN HELP, recognise the signs, tell us if you know a student is at risk.
WE CAN HELP
If you have experienced violence or abuse of any kind, you are entitled to free, non-judgmental support. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to us.
The Disclosure Response Team:
Let us know using the online disclosure tool.
hours: Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
phone: 029 2087 4844
out of hours: 0808 8010 800 (Live Fear Free Helpline)
search: ‘Violence and Abuse’ on the student Intranet for more.
YOU CAN HELP
As an individual, you have the power to affect real change by leading by example. You can play your part by:
- Understanding the power of your words
- Be sympathetic and careful even when ‘joking’
- Consciously challenge your stereotypical beliefs on sex, gender, and traditional roles associated with both
- Speak up for what you believe in!
- Become an empowered bystander. The Bystander Effect states that we are less likely to intervene and help someone when part of a crowd. As the number of people present increase, the responsibility is diffused and often this results in someone being left helpless.
Your feedback and help please
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Nichola (Placement Student) and Sophie (HEFCE Marketing Project Lead),
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team.
Your Student Life, Supported.
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