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I'm worried about someone else

Do you ever have that feeling that something is not quite right with someone you know? It may be a family member, a colleague or a friend. Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong and when you try to raise the subject, the person brushes you off and assures you that everything is fine.

If that is so, there is a strong probability that the person concerned is experiencing some form of domestic abuse.

Some people might be glad to talk openly about what is happening, but others don’t like to talk about it, often they feel ashamed to be in this position and blame themselves – usually because their abuser has already laid the blame at their door and they have come to believe what’s been said of them.

It's distressing to witness friends in distress – so what can you do if someone you know does take the courageous step of confiding in you?

  • Listen to her.
  • Believe her: probably her abuser has told her that no one will believe her. He/she will almost certainly have presented a charming façade to the outside world. Let her know that despite all this, you believe what she’s telling you
  • Don’t judge: there are many reasons why a woman doesn’t leave a relationship in which she is experiencing abuse and it’s sometimes hard to understand why. Don’t underestimate the fact that she might well still love her abuser and think he/she can change. Try not to judge her for this as it’s another way of blaming her, of putting the responsibility for what is happening on her shoulders
  • On the subject of blame: domestic abuse is ALWAYS the fault of the abuser but your friend’s abuser will almost certainly be blaming her for what is happening in their relationship and over time she has come to believe this. Make it clear that she is not to blame
  • In the company of others: acknowledge that she is in a frightening and difficult situation so help her understand that she is far from being alone, that there are many women like her in the same situation – which is why organisations such as West Cornwall Women’s Aid exist.
  • Credit where credit’s due: abuse will always lower a woman’s sense of self, her self-esteem. Her abuser will have been undermining her confidence probably for years and it has taken a great deal of courage on her part to confide in you, so acknowledge this, let her know that you understand and admire her for this.
  • Time: allow her time to talk but don’t push her to go into too much detail.
  • Assurance: explain that no one deserves to be abused, ridiculed, threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser may have told her. She may tell you many things that she believes explain his/her actions, but it is important to point out that none of these reasons can possibly excuse it.
  • Support her as a friend. Encourage her to express her feelings, whatever they are but allow her to make her own decisions.
  • Leaving: it can be tempting to tell someone in this situation to leave the relationship, but it is not helpful to do so if she is not ready. This will not be an easy thing to do, and it has to be her decision. Remember that the most dangerous time for a woman is she leaves a relationship.  If she wants to leave encourage her to contact us (or another professional) and we can help her make a ‘safety plan’, so she can leave as safely as possible.
  • Physical harm: if she has suffered physical harm, try offering to go with her to a hospital or to see her GP.
  • Reporting: offer to help her report the assault to the police – but only if she chooses to do so. As with leaving, it will not be easy for her as it will involve confiding in another person. Be there for her when she is ready.
  • Information be ready to help identify organisations that offer help to abused women and their children. Explore the available options with her. Tell her about West Cornwall Women’s Aid and how to access our website.
  • Legal Issues: by all means offer to go with her to visit a solicitor but only if she is ready to take this step.
  • Safety: encourage her to seek professional advice to help her leave as safely as possible.  If she does not want to or cannot access professional help, help her to plan a safe strategy for leaving her abusive relationship.[link to Safety Planning page]
  • Boundaries: let her decide what she thinks is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge her to follow any strategies that she feels doubtful about.
  • Practical help: offer her the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages; offer to look after an emergency bag in case she decides to leave.
  • Self Care: looking after and supporting someone in this situation can be extraordinarily difficult and it is important that you take care of yourself. First and foremost, NEVER put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, don't offer to talk to the abuser or let yourself be seen by them as a threat to their relationship with your friend. After you’ve spent time supporting your friend, give yourself time to recover.

I’m worried about someone in my family

My mum’s partner is abusive

Try talking to her about what is going on but, as we said above, she may be feeling ashamed or think that she is to blame. If she still loves him/her or has reasons to stay in the relationship, she may become defensive. This is understandable, try not to blame her and above all, remember that her partner is soley responsible for the abuse.

Does your mum have friends or other family members that she can confide in? Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to you, maybe she thinks she’s protecting you, but encouraging her to find someone to talk to is a good step in the right direction.

If you still live in the home, one way of broaching the subject would be to talk to her about how the abuse she is experiencing is affecting you.

Remember you also have a right to live in a home free from abuse.

Practical Help let your mum know that there is help out there. If she wants to leave the family home, she might be able to get a place in a refuge and she can certainly get support and counselling from domestic abuse services such as West Cornwall Women’s Aid

Finally, if you are living with your mum and you believe that you and or her are in physical danger, CALL THE POLICE as they are the only service that will be able to intervene to protect you both

My dad is abusing my mum

The way your dad is treating your mum is completely unacceptable and is classed as domestic abuse. Remember that neither you nor your mum is responsible for what is happening.

There’s help available for you both to help you to get out of this situation. It may be possible to get an injunction (occupation order) to get him removed from the house. For this to happen she would need to gather evidence of the abuse and seek expert legal advice. If she has no income of her own, or is on a low income, she may qualify for legal aid. [Rhiannon: links here to legal aid solicitors in our area?]

Alternatively your mum and you may be able to go in to a woman’s refuge in order to get away from the abuse. However, this will probably mean leaving the local area and you changing schools. It may be possible to get some emergency accommodation in the local area through the local authority housing department.

Your mum and you can also get some support and help from a local domestic abuse service. They would be able to help your mum think through her options and decide what is the best thing to do.

Remember that you and your mum do not have to continue to live this way. There is help out there for you both.

I’ve heard fighting going on at my next-door neighbour’s house. What can I do to stop it happening?

This can be a difficult problem as, being a neighbour, you don’t necessarily know her very well and you don’t know exactly what’s happening.

However, if you hear an incident and think that your neighbour is in danger, and any children she may have are also, then we advise you to  contact the police.

The police have a responsibility to respond and to undertake a risk assessment where there is domestic abuse taking place.

If there are children in the house and you are concerned for their safety, you should contact social services. They would be able to work with the woman to help her protect her children from harm.  (MARU link)

If possible, you could mention to your neighbour that you’ve overheard some fighting and that you’re worried about her. You can then encourage her to seek some help. There will be options available to help her put a stop to what’s going on.

My friend keeps going back to her abusive partner

Unfortunately, unless your friend chooses to take some action and remove herself from this situation there’s little that you can do to make her.

She’s only likely to leave and not return if the decision is her own and she doesn’t feel that she’s being pushed into doing things she doesn’t want to do.

It seems that you’re doing everything that you can by being a friend and by being there for her. Remember that you can’t change the situation for her and that you must also look after yourself.

Try to understand the reasons that your friend may have for staying in the relationship. She may still love him/her and believe that he/she’ll change. Although it’s possible for abusive people to change their behaviour, this takes a lot of effort and full acknowledgement that the abuse is their responsibility.

Professional help would normally be required in order for a person to realise why they are abusive and to address their own issues. What normally happens is that the abuse increases in frequency and severity over time.

Perhaps you could discuss this with your friend, but remember that you can’t force her to realise this.

At the moment it seems that she’s hoping that he/she will change. It’s quite normal for a woman to attempt to leave an abusive relationship several times before making the final break.

She may feel that she couldn’t cope on her own. As a result of the abuse her self-esteem is likely to be very low. Often an abusive person will tell the other person that the abuse is their fault.

If somebody is constantly telling you something, eventually you start to believe it. Domestic abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. There’s nothing that your friend could do to make it acceptable for him/her to abuse her.

Talk to her about these things and try to understand if she’s not ready to leave the relationship just yet. Encourage her to get in touch with a local domestic abuse service.

This could take some of the pressure off you, as she would then have external help and support and someone else to talk to. She may find it easier to talk to someone that she doesn’t know.

Hopefully through getting support and realising that she’s not alone she will begin to build confidence in herself and then she will be more likely to be able to end the relationship.

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