How can I Help a Domestic Abuse Victim?

Alan Rankin

If you know someone is a victim of domestic abuse, you must carefully consider how to help her — or him — without making the situation worse. Wishing to intervene in a domestic abuse situation is a natural response, but it could put both the victim and you at risk. If the victim's life is in immediate danger, contact the police; if the victim is not in immediate danger, contact a local battered women’s resource or a national domestic abuse hotline. Trained experts can advise you about the safest way to offer support to a domestic abuse victim. A victim of domestic abuse generally should leave the situation, but attempting to leave also can be dangerous and must be carefully executed.

Attempting to leave an abuser may put the victim in even more danger if not done properly.
Attempting to leave an abuser may put the victim in even more danger if not done properly.

If someone tells you she's suffering from domestic abuse, emphasize that you believe her and offer emotional support. Don’t be judgmental or otherwise say things that may alienate her; she needs someone she can trust. Contact a domestic abuse hotline or local shelter as soon as possible.

Confidentiality and empathy are extremely important for domestic violence victims.
Confidentiality and empathy are extremely important for domestic violence victims.

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t offer to hide a domestic abuse victim in your own home, because this could put you or your family in danger. A trusted friend or relative in another city is better, but contacting the local battered women’s resource is best. Workers there can arrange for safe passage to a shelter in a hidden location. A shelter also can take in children of abuse victims, and some can arrange for their continued education or busing to their school.

If possible, a domestic abuse victim should develop a safety plan, sometimes called an emergency plan, before leaving home. First, she should decide on a place to go and the safest time to leave. When making these decisions, she should not use her home phone or computer, which could alert the abuser to her plans. Using a phone or computer at a library or a friend’s home is safer.

She should gather personal documents, such as identification and birth certificates, or make copies if it’s not safe to take the original documents. If she’s taking the kids, she should gather their documents, as well. She should hide a bag in a place it won’t accidentally be discovered, and not start packing until shortly before leaving, so missing clothes or belongings don’t give her away.

A domestic abuse victim is not always willing to leave the abuser, even when it’s possible. You can try to convince her but, in many cases, all you can do is offer to help if she changes her mind. Be supportive, but don’t provoke the abuser or get in the middle of the situation, if you can avoid it.

If you witness violence happening, call the police. In some areas, officers can file charges on an abuser even if the victim doesn’t. Be careful, however, because this can cause the abuser to direct his or her wrath at you. If you’re not sure someone is a domestic abuse victim, educate yourself by learning more about domestic violence situations. This will help you to recognize warning signs and be prepared in case your suspicions are confirmed.

Most areas in the U.S. have hotlines or other resources that can provide assistance or counseling 24 hours a day. Many such resources also offer specialized assistance for the disabled, including phone lines for the hearing-impaired. To find resources outside the U.S., a person can check online for a directory of international abuse organizations.

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