Supporting a Domestic Violence Survivor

Chances are you knew that something was wrong. A good friend or family member began to call you less and less, you didn’t see them very often anymore, and they began acting more awkward or more secretive. When you look at what might have changed with this person, all signs point to their new relationship. You began to suspect that something wasn’t right there.

One of the first things we notice in someone who is in an abusive relationship is that they begin to isolate themselves from their community because of shame. They may also be forced into isolation by their abuser. This is a calculated deconstruction of a victim’s support system. The abuser knows that it is easiest to control and abuse another if no one is there to see it or tell the victim they deserve better. This could also range from not letting the victim work or go to school to not being allowed to leave the house at all. The domestic violence power and control wheel illustrates isolation and multiple other types of abuse and uses of control over a victim. Take time to read it and it will help you get a picture of how trapped your friend or family member might be feeling.

Supporting a survivor can be frustrating as well as scary if that person is not ready to leave an abusive relationship. The survivor might be in denial about the quality of their relationship or simply afraid to tell anyone because of threats or shame.

The most important thing we can give to a survivor is CHOICE. Your friend or family member experiencing abuse might not have been able to make any choices for a long time. They have been made to feel trapped, crazy, worthless, that no one else could love them, and/or incapable of supporting themselves. It is important that they start thinking for themselves so they can reclaim their lives and self-esteem as their own, in true liberation. Instead of telling a survivor what they should do, we can tell them what they can do. This will increase the likelihood that they stay free from this abusive relationship and potentially abusive relationships in the future.

Even if your friend or family member makes the choice to stay in an abusive relationship, it is important that their choice is their own. It is common for survivors to leave and return to an abusive relationship several times before finally breaking free. We can help them by safety planning for harm reduction and maintaining the stance that we will always support them.

Take care of yourself. Set the boundaries you need to make sure you are getting your needs met. If it is too hard for you to support a person while they are in an abusive relationship, take a step back. Let the survivor know you will be there when they are ready to leave but you are afraid for your safety and it is hard for you to see this happening to them.