How to be a good allied?
How others have helped loved ones?
It’s often helpful to understand a situation by hearing from those who have lived through the experience. If you’re here, we know it’s because you want to know what more you can do to be a source of support. Below we have shared advice from those who have supported friends experiencing domestic abuse, or survivors who have had a friend support them through their journey. This may help you in your experiences. Before we share those stories, we want to highlight the experience of one survivor.
All I needed was...
My partner was always complaining about “his suffering,” and how he was misunderstood. To add to it, he had a terrible temper, one that led him to impart violence against me in more than one occasion. Somehow, I was always the one to blame. For everything that happened to me, him, and us. It was me who had to change for him to get better. At times, I really wish I had a good friend at that time. All I really needed was someone, anyone, who would have approached me and asked if my relationship was bad. Only if someone had asked me to confide in them, and offered to help.
Helping my sister
My story is about being a sister-cum-friend. They say, "you have to help yourself before anyone else will help you". I agree 200%. I tried to help my sister to come out a stale relationship by giving her moral, physical, financial support but she is not ready to put her kids under stress that would be a result of taking any decision. I believe victims have to be ready to realise and have assurance of security and wellbeing, if they choose to take action against abuse or violence from their partners. Key Takeaway: Realise that your friend/family member has to be willing to help themselves first, for a breakthrough to take place, patience is key.
Helping a friend
"My friend was in a relationship with a controlling guy for about a year. All seemed normal throughout the relationship in my outsider's eyes and she didn't really notice any 'warning signs' as they were very much in love with each other. After a year, I had a chat with her as he was behaving shitty towards her - it was never his fault and he would always blame her for things; even going quiet for a couple of days and making her feel bad. She talked me through certain situations during their relationship when he had been really controlling and manipulative. She said she feels stupid for never recognising these signs. She was scared of meeting him to break up with him - as she didn't know how he'd react. We made a plan together and I supported her and was available to chat with her all the time. She met him in a public place, set her agenda, broke up with him, and I advised her to secretly record the chat (just in case). Then I helped move her things from his flat - this way, she didn't have to see him." Key Takeaway: It takes time - you can point to all the resources and tips/tricks you want, but don't be pushy. Individuals need to make up their own mind and come to their own conclusions - this is the only way a decision becomes sustainable, long-term and feels right.
Having a supportive friend gave me courage
“In the depths of my nightmare, having a friend was the only thing that kept me going. Her perseverance to encourage me to seek further help and being someone who offered unwavering support and consistency against a tumultuous background was so important to me. One day I did take the leap and left my abusive partner. It wasn’t easy, and without the help of my friend, I don’t think I would be living the positive new lifestyle that I do now, and I am eternally grateful for that.” Key Takeaway: As a friend, be consistent with your support
“I had several friends who supported me in escaping an abusive relationship a number of years ago. It took time, lots of time; looking back far too much time. But the one thing that I really appreciated was my friends’ supportive listening skills. They were ALWAYS there to hear what I had to say, and kept me sane.” Key Takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of listening Want to share your story? Email it to us on team at chayn.co or you can also send it to us on Facebook.
It’s not all about the ears
When someone is living in a violent or abusive relationship, it is often difficult for them to speak about it with other people. They can be scared of being judged and accused of lying. They might feel forced into having to prove to others that they are in fact telling the truth or even embarrassed or ashamed to be in an abusive relationship. There are many forms of abuse (physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, sexual) and when someone is living through it, it is not always easy to recognise abuse for what it is. The first step to someone leaving a violent or abusive relationship is to be able to acknowledge it. Speaking about what they are going through, even if it confuses them, is one way to share their feelings that things aren’t going well or as they should. How a friend listens to these stories is of key importance.
Listen patiently. Do not interrupt or force your own opinions on your friend. It is normal to have an urge to do so because you want to get them out of this situation as quickly as possible. Yet, you risk shutting them down and stopping them from speaking to you openly in the future.
- Wait and respect the time they take to tell you their story. Your friend may not be ready to tell you everything that has happened to them in the first sitting.
- Be sensitive to the surroundings in which you meet and talk. Try to meet in a quiet place which is neutral enough to help them talk about such difficult issues. Your friend may not want to talk about it in public, so perhaps go for a walk or do an activity - like cooking together. It is sometimes easier to talk when you are not just staring at one another across a table.
- Do not judge. Your opinion is important but you shouldn’t make your friend feel judged. Try to maintain a conversation that allows them to speak freely. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to elaborate on their situation and describe their experiences. For example, you can simply ask “How are you?” or “I’d love to hear what is going on. Would you like to share with me?”. You can also mirror back what they are saying, using phrases such as “It sounds like you are…” or “From what I understand you are saying that…” You may also try to avoid questions that require your friend to justify their experiences, such as those that start with “why…?”.
- Listen and be careful about what you say. Remember that your friend may have positive feelings such as love for their abuser. Attacking their abuser may cause your friend to become defensive and/or shut down.
- Try to work out if your friend is in danger. Listen carefully and sensitively to what your friend is telling you. Try to assess carefully if they are in danger, but make sure not to scare or panic them. You will find sources at the end of this guide presenting the signs you should look out for.
- Speak to your friend regularly. Do not let too much time pass between the occasions that you speak to your friend about their situation. Try to do this without being intrusive, and instead aim to create a safe space where they can speak to you in confidence.
- Recommend your friend to speak to other people, but only if it is safe to do so. It is really important that in order to prevent increasing risk, they only tell sensitive information to people they know they can trust, especially if the individuals they are unsure about are connected to their abuser or the abuser’s family. One way of testing people is to entrust them with a small, innocent secret and wait to see if they break your friend’s trust. If they do, your friend will know not to trust them. If their family, friends and co-workers are supportive, then you can encourage your friend to build a network of trust. This will help them to get the support and protection they might need.
- Speak to someone. Once your friend has confided in you about their situation you will need support too. While you are helping your friend through this difficult situation, it's important to take care of your own mental health in the process. You may feel frustrated and powerless if you try to resolve the situation alone.
- Choose carefully who you speak to. Speak to someone who you can trust and who may help you to understand how to go forward. Make sure not to speak to someone who is also close to your friend in need, or someone who they may not want to confide in.
- Do not speak about the situation to your friend’s partner. You cannot resolve the situation by mediating between your friend and their partner. You must not tell their partner what they have told you. Doing so can endanger your friend and may make their situation more difficult. Above all, you are likely to lose your friend’s trust.
- Remember that you can seek professional support. It can be very emotionally difficult to support a friend in a violent relationship. If the situation continues, remember that it is not your fault. There are a variety of professional support networks to protect people in violent relationships. You can contact them for advice and to talk about your feelings. They are available for people in both homo- and heterosexual relationships. We are aware that these support structures might not exist or might be difficult to access from where you live and that this is a hard situation to be in. In this case, there might be other resources you can access over the internet, like online counseling or chat rooms. For example, have a look at 7 Cups of Tea or look at the end of this guide for more resources.
At Chayn, we offer platforms that are designed to help people experiencing domestic abuse in different regions of the world, visit our local chapters Chayn Pakistan, Chayn India, Chayn Italia and our platform Supernova Project for information related to domestic abuse within LGBTQIA+ relationships and links to helpful organisations close to where you live. Remember that you cannot resolve the situation yourself. You are not in the relationship and hence, cannot control what happens. This can be frustrating and can make you feel like you are not doing anything to help. Try to remember that just listening and supporting your friend is one of the most important things you can do to make them feel stronger.
- Let them know they are not alone! Although it is clearly not acceptable that this is happening, there are many people who have experienced similar situations and have made it through.
- Do not put your friend down. Remember that abuse against women cuts across socio-economic and political groups. We are all exposed to it.
- Remember that each case is unique, even if there are similar patterns of abuse in many abusive relationships. There are no universal answers or ways out of violent and abusive relationships. Respect each individual case for what it is. Don’t compare your friend’s situation with a different one that might trivialise their incident or make them feel as if they weren’t taken seriously.
- Make it clear you believe them. Never doubt that your friend is telling you the truth or they may not be able to confide in you. Remember that it is a huge step to tell someone that your partner is violent or abusive. You must trust your friend so they can trust you.
- Be careful not to sound judgemental when expressing your opinion. For example, do not say “I would never have expected that you would let something like this happen to you!”
- Do not assume that the violence and abuse is mutual. This assumption is made particularly often for same-sex relationships because it is sometimes believed that a closer similarity in physical strength will mean that mutual abuse is more likely. This is, of courses, incorrect logic. Be aware of any subconscious assumptions you make so that you are able to catch yourself out. Believe what your friend tells you and do not assume to know better. People who are suffering abuse at the hands of a partner tend to blame and belittle themselves. If you express doubts, then you are not helping them.
- Remember you cannot get your friend out of this situation alone. The person who is in the abusive relationship must be free to leave in their own way and time. You may become frustrated if they stay in the relationship. Even if they keep putting themselves in that situation, do not blame them and do not try to force a quick solution. Respect your friend and the time they need. Do not try to solve the situation yourself, only your friend can choose to do that. The most important thing is remaining open and available to talk to.
- Do not blame yourself if your friend stays in the relationship. It is difficult to leave an abusive relationship and it may take a lot of time. Continue to support them and provide a safe space where they can speak to you in confidence. Providing trust and support is essential to help them have some relief and eventually break free.
- Try to focus the discussion on how your friend feels. Often people who experience abuse at the hands of a partner are blamed for the situation and their feelings can be dismissed. Help them explore their feelings and understand that they are not wrong or at fault.
- Help them to clarify and interpret what has happened. Get your friend to speak to you about the times when their partner was violent or abusive. Ask them to speak about when they were controlling or coercive. Help them separate fact from feeling. Too often, the words ‘love’ and ‘passion’ are used to justify any kind of behaviour.
- Ask your friend how you can help them. Your friend might know what they need your help with. Don’t make assumptions about their needs, ask first.
- Try to help them explore the imbalance of power that characterises abusive relationships. Does your friend often make compromises to please their partner? Is their partner condescending? Is your friend changing their behaviour to please their partner? Are they avoiding friends in order to make their partner feel better? Help them understand and realise that they will never be able to make their abusive partner happy but instead will end up abandoning their own identity. Biderman’s Chart of Coercion is an example of a useful tool to identify abuse. It can also be particularly difficult for people who identify as LGBTQIA+ to identify abuse within their relationships because abuse in these relationships often do not follow the narrative we so often hear about abuse. The Supernova Project outlines what abuse can look like within LGBTQIA+ relationships, which can be a useful tool to identify abuse
- Do not legitimise the violence and abuse. Although you should be careful not to scare them, you should recognise and name violence and abuse for what they are. No emotion can ever justify violence or abuse.
- Make it clear that substance dependency is not an excuse. The use and abuse of drugs, alcohol and pharmaceuticals is not an excuse for violence or abuse in any situation.
- Nothing is an excuse for violent behaviour! Even though it might explain the behaviour somehow, the abuser’s traumatic past or challenging circumstances are never a justification for abuse and violence.
- Highlight your friend’s strengths and the possibilities open to them. Often people who suffer violence and abuse feel powerless and overwhelmed by the situation. Outside help can make them feel less alone and realise that they are far from being useless, even if their abuser might have made them feel this way. Help them understand that they can take back control of the situation and that they can determine their own life’s path. If they feel nervous that they do not have enough evidence of the abuse itself to convince family and/or authorities, you can go through our ‘How to build your own domestic violence case without a lawyer’ which provides tips and templates on how to collect and display evidence.
- If you think it could help, take them to a women’s refuge or drop-in centre or the house of someone where they feel safe.
- Help your friend find alternative accommodation, particularly if they need to get away from their partner or if you think that they are in immediate danger.
- If you think it could help, and you feel comfortable doing so, speak to your friend about your own experiences of violent or abusive relationships. It could help them feel less inadequate and embarrassed. Gender-based and same-sex violence are a collective problem. Recognising them, sharing stories and supporting each other are essential in the fight against them.
If they have children
- Without making them feel like a ‘bad parent’, remind them that a violent parent harms the welfare of children. If your friend has children, then it is a lot harder to end an abusive relationship and contact with that person. Often children are used as ‘blackmail’ by the abuser in order to control their partner, even after a relationship has ended.
- Even when your friend’s partner doesn’t harm the children, they will still be affected by living in a violent home. There is a very fine line to tread between not making your friend feel guilty and keeping them aware of the harmful effects on children of being in a violent home. When children are involved, it is even more important for you to help your friend get out of the violent relationship. Help them understand that leaving a violent partner does not deprive children of a parent. Instead, it saves them from living in a climate of fear and anxiety.
- If the child of a friend speaks up about violence and abuse at home, they are unlikely to be lying. Children might have less inhibition to talk about the abuse happening at home. Listen to them carefully!
- Depending on the law of their country (e.g. child custody) and their own situation, they might want to remain with the abuser and there is nothing you can do about it. You can only advise them on how to cope the best with the everyday trauma and how to support the children through it.
The NSPCC (UK) host message boards where children and young people share their experiences about their lives and can get support. Other countries may do the same. These forums allow young people to speak freely about what's happening and read about other children’s experiences to learn from others facing similar situations.
- “ …. What? Right! I’m calling my cousin and we’ll go sort them out!”
- “… No way! Really?! They seem so sweet!”
- “… Oh my gosh, you are usually so tough!”
- “… You’ve been stupid.”
- “… And you didn’t do anything?”
- “… What were you thinking?”
- “… I wouldn’t have done that.”
Above all: Do not speak about your friend and their situation with anyone else without your friend’s consent. Even if you think you are just trying to help, it is very important to respect their privacy. Your friend needs to be able to trust you fully!
If they return to abuser
You may find that you help your friend leave an abusive relationship, but they end up returning to them a few months, weeks or even years later. We need to be a strong support network for a friend suffering from abuse. Therefore, it is essential to understand the many factors that pull people back to a relationship that is physically or psychologically harmful: Love – this factor may be extremely difficult for friends and family to understand. How can someone still love a partner who is abusive? The fact is that abuse rarely starts at the beginning of a relationship. Your friend will have gone through what’s called a ‘honeymoon period’ where the abuser was charming, attentive and loving. This period may repeat itself during the relationship, in between experiences of abuse. Once someone is in love, it is hard to break that bond. This is especially true when the abuser is a parent of their children. Children – survivors of abuse are often convinced by their abusive partner that they are worthless and a bad parent. They will constantly be told that if they leave, they will never see their children again. Although this may not be true, abusers can manipulate your friend emotionally and mentally until they believe everything they say. Also, many people believe that they should keep the family together. They may also believe it is the best thing to avoid children growing up with just one parent, having to move schools and often move far from where they live. Finance – survivors of abuse will often be denied access to bank accounts and they are often manipulated into leaving work. This means that once they are out of the relationship they have no financial stability. This can cause people to return to their abusive partner because it is better than being homeless – again this is particularly difficult when children are involved. Mental health issues – the trauma of physical and/or mental abuse could cause your friend mental health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Your friend’s abusive partner may have used this to manipulate them. For example, they may deny them essential medication or make your friend dependent on their support.
What can you do?
You might hope that you can be a "fixer", by showing care and support, but the truth of the matter is abusive relationships are highly complex. This means that ‘fixing’ them is not easy and while you should not let this discourage you from continuing to support your friend, you should not pressurize them or yourself. Falling into feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and depression are common in these situations but you can fight this!
It may take just one time to leave their partner, or it may take 10. Whatever the number may be, try to stay strong for your friend and be there when they find the courage to leave the abusive environment they are in.
If your friend is being abused, then they most likely know very little kindness in their daily lives. Try to tell them positive aspects about themselves to boost their self-esteem and give them more confidence to be independent.
Supporting a friend who keeps returning to a dangerous relationship can be traumatic for family and friends who may feel helpless, upset or even angry. No matter how you feel, understand that the trauma and abuse your friend experiences (as illustrated above) are the reasons why they return to the relationship. If we remember these points at all times, we can be a better friend and eventually support them in leaving their abusive relationship for good or help them cope with it.
Creating a safety plan for the home
Your friend is experiencing physical abuse, and is at a stage where they are slowly starting to realise that things won’t change for the better. But if she hasn’t decided to get away once and for all, you can suggest some practices so that they can avoid physical assaults as much as possible. Some questions you could ask them with regards to their space are: When your friend is experiencing physical abuse, other forms of abuse can be present at the same time, they might already realise that the situation will not change for the better.
But if they haven’t decided to get away once and for all, you can suggest some practices so that they can avoid physical assaults as much as possible. Some questions you could ask them with regards to their space are:
- How can you feel safer at home?
- Is there any room in the house that can be locked where you can resort to in case of an emergency?
- Can you somehow modify the room where most of the violent episodes occur (e.g. kitchen, bedroom) so that you will avoid getting sandwiched between the furniture?
- Are there any emergency exits that can be used in the house?
- Can you hide some potentially dangerous objects?
You can also suggest that they create a emergency bag - a bag stashed somewhere or with someone (with a person of trust such as yourself) containing money (in cash) for a hotel or for a cab, with important documents, such as their ID card, passport, marriage certificate, birth certificate, and a few clothes. You may wish to hide photocopies of these documents, rather than the originals, to avoid suspicion. You may want to agree on a code word, sentence or action that is only known to you both so she can signal when she is in danger and cannot access help herself. It should be something very common which cannot be interpreted by people around her.
We’ve said this before, but it’s useful to make sure your friend has thought of the following things if they are thinking of leaving. This is not an exhaustive list and we will be updating this with input from survivors!
- Finding out about divorce, protection orders and child custody laws, and how they are enforced. More specific information can be found on Chayn Pakistan, Chayn India and local women’s organisations might be able to give you guidance on how to proceed.
- In case your friend decides to leave the shared living accommodation, they will need to arrange a time when the abuser is not present and have a trusted person present to help them remove their belongings.
- If your friend decides to remain in the house, they might want to secure their home, e.g. by changing locks or adding additional ones.
- A relative or friend such as yourself should stay with your friend for some time.
- If your friend has children, they should learn the house address and your friend’s personal phone number. They should also know the number of any other trusted person or organisation that can be contacted in case of an emergency.
- Your friend may have to change their phone number or phone.
- If your friend has children, think of arrangements to increase their safety when not at home.
- A change of any place that your friend regularly finds themselves at (e.g. shops, place of worship, workplace) and the routes towards those places when they are easily accessible and known to the abusive partner.
Never take action on behalf of your friend without their expressed consent or without considering their wider social and societal circumstances. Be sure to be safe!
Good Friend: Anyone who behaves in a non-judgemental way and listens to someone regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and choices. Women’s Refuge: A place where women who experience violence and abuse are welcomed and given shelter. They are listened to and protected so that they can recognise and understand the violence that they have experienced. A women’s refuge aims to create a space where women can realise their aspirations and potential away from heavy societal pressures. It helps women to start on the path to escaping violence and abuse. Safe Space: A place where someone can relax and be themselves freely without running the risk of feeling uncomfortable, judged or insecure. It is safe for those that use it regardless of their heritage, nationality, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, religious belief, age, and mental or physical condition. What feels safe to people will depend on their background and experiences and those that need support should be consulted to make sure it feels safe to them. Spiral of violence: All the ways in which a person can undermine their partner, such as making them feel weak, helpless and dependant on them, and how these experiences combine and enhance each other. There are seven stages in this cyclical process: intimidation, isolation, devaluation, segregation, physical and sexual aggression, using children as blackmail. These stages may happen in different orders and at different speeds. There may often be periods of relative calm between each stage, aiming to weaken the survivors and further isolate them. You will find more information about this at the end of this guide. Gender-based violence: According to the United Nations, any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or limiting of freedom, whether occurring in public or in private life. It can be short or long term, and can extend to physical, psychological, emotional, existential and material damage. Violence cannot be associated exclusively with certain social, economic, cultural, national or religious conditions, but is a phenomenon that cuts across society. It may occur and be cultivated in a variety of environments. Gender-based violence often entails the abuse of the woman’s trust, in environments such as a romantic/intimate relationship, or in the workplace. Same-sex violence: Violence occurring within a relationship between two men or two women. This sort of violence is often ‘invisible’ due to society’s reluctance to accept such relationships and love. In addition, the need to continually defend one’s relationships from bigotry, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia and sexism further restricts one’s ability to speak openly about intimate partner violence, due to fear of being attacked once again for one’s sexual orientation and choices. The spiral of violence is a process which is internalised through systems of power and occurs regardless of gender. Those suffering the effects of violence do so, despite their sexuality. An individual who faces violence in a lesbian relationship undergoes violence threefold: in the relationship itself; in a lesbophobic and a sexist culture that both desires and rejects them; and through societal refusal to recognise the existence of violence in a relationship between women. It is everyone’s responsibility to recognise that same-sex violence exists, and to fight against it!
What is domestic violence and how to identify it: http://chaynpakistan.org/am-i-being-abused/what-is-domestic-violence/ Abuse in queer relationships http://supernovaproject.org/index.php/queer-abuse/ One Love - defining relationship violence: A Quick summary of 1O important signs of abusive behaviour: http://www.joinonelove.org/define_10_signs How to identify child abuse and neglect: Guidance from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the UK: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/signs-symptoms-effects/ How to identify manipulative situations and people, & how to deal with them:Crowdsourced by survivors https://chayn.gitbooks.io/manipulation-is-abuse/content/ Information about exiting abusive relationships: Help your friend find resources to get out of the relationship Online counselling and chatroom for emotional support provided by non-professionals http://www.7cups.com/ How to stay safe when online: DIY Online Privacy Guide - Basic https://chayn.gitbooks.io/basic-diy-online-privacy/content/en/ How to stay safe when online: DIY Online Privacy Guide - Advanced https://chayn.gitbooks.io/advanced-diy-privacy-for-every-woman/content/securing-your-connections.html How To Build Your Own Domestic Violence Case Without A Lawyer https://chayn.co/how-to-build-your-own-case/
Many Thanks to Cagne Sciolte
This guide came about through a series of collective discussions in the ‘Cagne Sciolte’, a social centre in Rome, Italy, which runs a research centre against gender-based and same-sex violence. The Cagne Sciolte group made the decision to dedicate parts of their general assemblies and internal workshops to identify the best practices that can be used in daily life when dealing with a violent relationship. This was later remixed by many volunteers from Chayn. It would be impossible to list all the volunteers who have helped out with the guide in some way or the other but special thanks goes to Paula, Zoe, Jenny Louise, Nooreen, Saheli, Kristin and Chayn Italia who have put a lot of effort into making this happen.