how you can help someone else
Many of the people we help at Women's Refuge have been able to get out of a violent situation and go on to lead happy, safe lives because of the support of people like you.
Are you worried about someone you think is in an abusive relationship? At Women's Refuge we can provide you with free and private advice and support – phone us anytime on our 24/7 Crisisline at 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843.
Act now if you think someone’s life is in danger, or if a child is suffering abuse or neglect. If you believe there’s a threat to their safety or yours, call the police on 111 or Child, Youth and Family on 0508 FAMILY or 0508 326 459 anytime.
Remember to look after yourself
It's hard work being a support person. In order to help someone else, you need to look after yourself first. You can get support for yourself from Women's Refuge or other support agencies, or a counsellor at your school or tertiary institute.
And what you’re doing for that person by helping them through this tough time in their life? Well, that’s real love.
10 terrific ways to be supportive
When you broach the subject of abuse with someone you’re worried about, do it in a careful and caring way. You might like to choose a time and place in which the person is feeling as relaxed and safe as possible. The most important things you can do are:
- Tell them your concerns. Tell the person honestly if you’re afraid for their life, or if you’re concerned about their children if they have them. Start with something like, "I'm concerned that things aren’t going well for you at the moment". Let them know that you’re sad they have this abuse in their life, and that no one deserves it. What you do and say can make a huge difference to their lives: they may not be able to see what the abuse is doing to them. Their self-esteem may be so low they feel stuck in their situation; they might not know where to go; think that they are to blame; that no one will believe them; or they might feel ashamed and embarrassed. You can show them that other people really do care.
- Try not to judge. Let them know it's not their fault, that family violence is unacceptable and illegal, and acknowledge the strength and courage it has taken them to get this far. Please don’t judge them for being in the situation.
- Listen. Listen quietly to what they have to say, and then be affirming. You don't have to have answers.
- Share your own experiences. If you have been through abuse, tell them your tale of hope. Here are some other inspiring stories.
- Believe them. Always trust that what you are being told is the truth.
- Never excuse the abuse. Abuse is never okay – in fact, it’s against the law. Never defend an abuser with excuses like: “But they do love you”, “It only happened once”, “ It was just one punch”, “It's only because they were drunk”, “They’re under a lot of stress at work at the moment”, “Their culture is like that”, or “ They were abused as a child.”
- Be patient. Remember, for women especially, leaving a relationship is a very dangerous time - the violence can get worse. Meantime, it’s not helpful to ask questions like, “Why don't you just leave?”, “How can you let this happen?”, “How can you still love the person? ”, or “Don’t you ever think about the children? ”
- Support them even if they decide to stay in the relationship. It can be very difficult to watch the person you care for remain with or return to their abuser, and you might feel frustrated and angry with them at times. Leaving can be a long process - we have found that it takes four to seven attempts before women are successful in leaving. Try to support them and be there for them until they are strong and safe enough to leave for good.
- Allow them to express their emotions and reflect back to them. Listen non-judgementally without offering your opinions when a victim expresses their emotions. When they’ve finished, repeat back to them what you’ve heard. This can help them see the ‘big picture' of all the abuse and the effect it’s having on their life, and the lives of any children involved.
- Allow them to make their own decisions. To emerge from a relationship with an abuser, the victim needs to start to take their own power back and be in control of their own lives. It's important that they can make their own decision to leave. Don't tell them what to do, but give them support and information so that they can make their own choices.
3 wonder ways to offer practical help
Your practical help might be what is needed most right now, as a victim of abuse may be very emotional, and possibly depressed. Some wonderful ways to help are:
- Get information. Show them some literature about domestic violence. They might need to know about: emergency accommodation , Protection Orders, getting financial help , moving house , counselling, and education/support groups. Women's Refuge can help you with this information. You can also help them make a Safety Plan.
- Lend a hand. Ask them what they need while they are deciding what to do. Support you can offer may include: going with them to the police station; lawyer’s office; doctor; court; Work and Income; childcare; transport; accommodation ; providing your address to use for their mail; money; groceries; clothes; furniture; toiletries; staying with them at night; moral support and encouragement; and access to an education/support group.
- Consider any children. Parents can sometimes put so much energy into their own survival that they don't have much left for their children. Children may need: help to understand what is going on but to be protected from the details; to see their friends and other whānau/family members ; to feel reassured by familiar things and routines; to have their favourite toys and games; to not feel responsible for the break-up of the family ; to feel secure and safe ; to go to a children's group or counselling; good role models; fun and play; to talk about their feelings and emotions; to see the abusive parent or understand why they can't see them; to have a say in what impacts on them; and to know that adults will keep any promise they make.
People who have survived violence have learned many ways of coping in order to keep themselves alive. When a victim of abuse overcomes all the obstacles to leave a violent situation, celebrate their strength and courage!