Support a Survivor – Domestic Violence

Most often, a survivor of domestic violence or teen dating violence will seek help from their support networks, including relatives, friends and neighbors. The manner in which friends and family respond can have a powerful impact on a survivor’s life.

Please remember that you too must remain safe – if you are not safe, you will not be able to help the survivor. If immediate safety is a concern, call 911.

Remember that no one can force someone to leave their abusive partner. While it is possible to help someone in a violent relationship, it is ultimately their decision to change their own life and future.

The ability to demonstrate unconditional acceptance is crucial when helping a survivor to help her/himself. Try to suspend judgment when confronting behaviors and attitudes different from yours, be flexible and accept this person without imposing your own values and ideals.

The Survivor Reaches Out to You

What Do I Say (PDF)

If an abused person has reached out to you for help, you will need to listen to them, talk with them, provide them with support and information, and offer to help in whatever way you can. The goal in assisting a survivor of domestic violence should be to help them empower themselves to make the best decisions possible.

  • Allow them to tell their story.
  • Let them know you believe them and want to hear about their experiences.
  • Let them know you care about them and are concerned about their safety.
  • Support their right to be angry.
  • Don’t deny any of their feelings.
  • Respect the cultural values and beliefs that affect their behavior.
  • Know that they do not need rescuing.
  • Help them assess resources and support systems.
  • Maintain contact with them. Physical and psychological isolation are powerful control tactics used by abusive partners.
  • Let them know you are a nonthreatening, concerned ally who is able to see the reality of their situation and still respect them as a person.
  • Repeat clear statements about their rights, such as “You don’t deserve to be treated that way.”
  • Stay away from “you” statements such as “you should”. Instead, use “I” statements such as “I’m concerned.”
  • Let the person know they do not have to endure their situation alone and that they deserves support.
  • Offer them the telephone numbers of local resources. Contact our SAFEline for information on our services and other local resources. Our SAFEline is confidential and available 24/7 at 512.267.SAFE (7233) or via online chat at safeaustin.org/chat.

Helpers Versus Rescuers

In trying to be supportive, others can actually become overprotective to the point that they reinforce feelings of helplessness the abused person is trying to overcome. Doing too much for someone implies that they are incapable of acting on their own behalf. The more the rescuer accepts the idea that the abused person is helpless, the more the abused individual is forced into that role. The more helpless and dependent an abused person feels, the less able they will be to act on their own behalf.

A Helper…

  • Believes that an abused individual is a person, and with appropriate support, information, and resources can make their own decisions and determine their own fate.
  • Listens for requests for help.
  • Provides what the individual says they need.
  • Checks in with the person periodically.
  • Establishes and maintains appropriate boundaries.
  • Does most of the listening.
  • Supports the individual as they makes their own decisions and do their own work.

A Rescuer…

  • Believes an abused individual is helpless and needs someone to save them.
  • Gives help even when it is not asked for.
  • Fails to find out whether the help is welcomed.
  • Gives advice instead of information.
  • Gives what they decide the survivor needs.
  • Does most of the talking and working.

How You can Help Teens

For friends…

  • Listen first to what they have to say.
  • Talk to them in private and keep what they say confidential.
  • Let your friend know why you are concerned.
  • Be specific. Refer to incidents you have personally witnessed instead of what you have heard from others.
  • Offer to get your friend information about safety planning.
  • Mention other people your friend might talk to – a counselor, a teacher, or another adult they trust.
  • Let them know you are available to talk more if they need.
  • Give them the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helplinewhich has a ChatLine, the SAFE website address, or the confidential SAFEline information.

For Parents…

Parents play a very important role in ending teen dating abuse. Teens in abusive situations truly need the support of their parents. Even in the rockiest parent-teen relationship, the advice of a parent can make a difference in a teen’s life.

  • Ask questions about your teen’s life.
  • Listen with an open mind.
  • Support your teen as they decide what to do.
  • Open up clear channels of communication.
  • Be calm and take positive action.
  • Consider that taking away a teen’s cell phone to keep them from speaking with their abusive partner may have the unintended consequence of taking away their only means of calling for help.
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