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What to Say to a Friend in a Domestic Violence Relationship

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I have several friends who have asked me what to say to a woman friend of theirs who is being abused by her partner. In all 3 cases, the victim was unwilling to leave her abuser, and my friends were feeling frustrated. Wasn’t there ANYTHING they could do to make their friend leave? This must be one of the most difficult situations a friend will ever be in.

To respond to this problem, I turn to Ally who writes for the Domestic Violence Support Group’s Facebook page. She shared these answers on February 8, 2013:

If you suspect a friend is being abused:

Don’t focus on what a loser the abuser is. In a survey, the top reason women say they stay with an abusive partner is because she still loves him, so dismissing that love won’t help. Instead, start by telling her how awesome she is. The victim feels anger from her partner already. If she feels it from you, too, she’s less likely to hear what you have to say.

WHAT NOT TO SAY: “He is such a jerk! How can you stay with him?”

INSTEAD TRY: “No relationship is perfect, and I know you love him. But I’ve noticed he doesn’t always treat you well, and I’m concerned about you.”

If she says her partner isn’t abusive, or if she defends him, as hard as it is, try to listen. It’s much more powerful to ask questions than to lecture. For example, ask, does she feel differently now than she did before the relationship?

WHAT NOT TO SAY: “Don’t you see how he has brainwashed you?”

INSTEAD TRY: “I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about you.”

If she leaves but then goes back to her abuser, be patient. Trying to force her to break up with him for good means you’re taking control — and that’s what her partner is doing. Be aware that the AVERAGE number of times a victim leaves her abuser is SEVEN before she leaves him permanently.

WHAT NOT TO SAY: “If you go back to him one more time, I’m done!”

INSTEAD TRY: “I’ll always be here for you when you need me.”

If you feel she is in immediate danger, if he is physically hurting her or threatening to kill her, CALL THE POLICE — yes, even if she objects. You may think, “I’ll risk losing her as a friend” but it’s better to do that and keep her alive. You can tell her, “What he is doing is illegal. This is not my rule; this is the law.”

If she is ready to get out: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Check out my blog on safety planning, and help her with her safety plan. The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when she leaves her abuser. Also, write down any abusive episodes you witness or hear about, and tell your friend to keep any texts or emails her abuser has sent as evidence. Most victims don’t document abuse, so if she goes to get an order of protection, (restraining order), there’s no history to refer to. And if your friend has injuries at any point along the way, encourage her to see a doctor. Medical documentation is the best proof of abuse.

WHAT NOT TO SAY: “Good for you,” and nothing else.

INSTEAD TRY: “Do you need a prepaid cell phone? Do you need me to drive you anywhere?” Offer to keep things she may need when she leaves: money, keys, and phone numbers, clothes. And if she gives in and doesn’t dump him, don’t give up and don’t judge. Try not to have any expectation other than helping her achieve more safety.

Next week I will list some other concrete steps you can take to help a victim of domestic violence.

So, friends of victims of domestic violence don’t despair. Remember, as it says in Psalm 46:1:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

God loves your friend even more than you do. As you talk to your friend, and try to do concrete things to help her, remember to pray for her, calling out to the God of the universe for his help and strength.

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