How Do I Respond to a Woman Who is Being Abused?

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We know that abused women still rely most on friends, neighbours and family for support and help. You may also suspect or know that someone close to you is being abused.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Be supportive
  • Listen to her, believe her, and don't judge her. Let her know she is not alone.
  • Give her time to make her own decisions. Don't tell her what to do, or that she should go back and try a little harder. Don't rescue her by trying to find quick solutions.
  • Let her talk about the caring parts of the relationship. Don't put her down for staying with her partner.
  • Instead, share information on how abuse gets worse over time if no one does anything about it.
  • Help her focus on the good things about herself and about her children. But don't tell her she should stay for the sake of the children.
  • Respect her confidentiality - keep things private if she asks you to.
  • Help her find services. Find out about services she can use and tell her about them. Depending on her needs, make sure they:
    • offer language or cultural interpretation
    • are accessible to people with disabilities
    • can care for her children if she needs it
    • are gay-positive if that's important to her.
  • Never recommend joint family or couple counselling if there is emotional or physical abuse. It is dangerous for a woman. If they want counselling, separate counselling can be helpful.
  • Help her plan for an emergency
  • Safety is the first priority. If you believe she is in danger, tell her. Help her plan an emergency exit. Don't put yourself in danger by confronting the abuser.
  • Encourage her to get ready to leave home in a hurry. Help her get together items she needs, such as:
    • credit cards
    • cash
    • bank books
    • passport
    • birth certificates
    • citizenship papers
    • house keys
    • medications
    • her children's favourite toys
    • clothing

What can I say to her?

Give clear messages, including:

  • Violence is never okay. There is never a good reason for it.
  • Her safety and her children's safety are always most important.
  • She does not cause the abuse. Her partner is responsible for the abuse.
  • She cannot change her partner's behaviour.
  • Apologies and promises will not end the violence.
  • She is not alone. She is not crazy.
  • Abuse is not loss of control. It is something people use to control others.
  • The violence affects the children.
  • It is a crime to assault a partner.

She may be too fearful or confused to take any step right away. Be encouraged that she is reaching out for help. Every time she does this, she is gaining the strength she will need when she is ready to make decisions.

Prepared for the Canadian Health Network by Education Wife Assault [Springtide Resources] and the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence.