How to Help a Friend
How to Help a Friend Who is Being Abused
- Know the facts about relationship abuse.
- Give assurance that you believe your friend’s story.
- Listen and let your friend share feelings.
- Do not judge or give advice. Talk about available options and resources.
- Physical safety is the first priority. If you believe a friend is in danger, voice that concern. Help create a safety plan.
- Respect your friend’s right to confidentiality.
- Say that you care and want to help.
- Don’t be upset if your friend doesn’t react the way you think you would. People who are being controlled by their partner’s behavior must consider many factors before coming to a conclusion about how to access safety. Let your friend make her own decisions and provide support throughout the process.
- Give clear messages, including:
- Your actions do not cause the abuse.
- You are not to blame for your partner’s behavior.
- You cannot change her partner’s behavior.
- Apologies and promises are a form of manipulation.
- You are not alone.
- Abuse is not loss of control; it is a means of control.
- It is helpful to provide support to survivors. However, there are some forms of advice that are not useful and even dangerous for them to hear:
- Don’t tell them what to do, when to leave or when not to leave.
- Don’t tell them to go back to the situation and try a little harder.
- Don’t rescue them by trying to find quick solutions.
- Don’t suggest you try to talk to the abusive partner to straighten things out.
- Don’t place yourself in danger by confronting the abuser.
- Don’t tell them they should stay for the sake of the children.
- Never recommend couples counseling in situations of emotional or physical abuse. It is dangerous for the victim and will not lead to a resolution.
- Encourage separate counseling for the individuals, if they want counseling.
Adapted from EWA, Canada
How to Help a Friend Who is a Sexual Assault Survivor
- Validation: Accept what you hear. Many survivors fear they will not be believed. They are afraid that their experience will be minimized as “not important” or made into a catastrophe. Let the survivor state her or his views, feelings, beliefs, and opinions. Do not be judgmental.
- Empowerment: Allow survivors to direct their own course of action, no matter how much you think your idea would help them. An assault takes away the victim’s power and control over their self and situation; regaining that sense of control helps the survivor in the recovery process.
- Information: Present survivors with resources and available options. Initially, the victim may be so overwhelmed that it is impossible for them to hear everything. Be patient and willing to repeat yourself. Respect the person’s decision as to what to do.
- Privacy: Assure survivors that you will keep the matter private. Explain that you may need to consult with resources to understand how to help her. If total anonymity is necessary, you and/or the survivor may get information and support without revealing your names.
- Listen: Let survivors disclose as much about the assault as they are comfortable with. Do not press for details, as this can feel intrusive and controlling.
In responding to the survivor use the same words she or he does in describing the event. If the survivor uses the word “rape,” then use it in reflective listening. If the survivor uses the expression “something bad happened,” stay with that. Be empathetic, non-judgmental, and help the survivor feel safe. Avoid labeling the experience for them. Remember, survivors may feel guilty and responsible. You can reassure them that no one deserves to be assaulted and it was not their fault. Be particularly sensitive if a survivor has special needs based on ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and/or disability.
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