Domestic violence: How to help someone you think is being abused by a partner

'Don’t pressure them to leave'

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An estimated two million people experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the past year, according to recent figures.

Due to the nature of domestic violence, which can be defined as much by coercive control as it can by physical abuse, it can be difficult to identify when it’s happening to someone close to you, least of all to know how to help them.

There are, however, a number of charities that offer suggestions to people on how they can help someone in an empathetic and non-confrontational way.

In light of the government’s new landmark bill that extends the legal definition of domestic abuse beyond physical violence to include economic and manipulative abuse, The Independent spoke to Refuge and Women’s Aid to find out what you can do to help someone being abused by a partner.

Be patient

Refuge says you shouldn’t expect someone to open up to you about domestic violence immediately.

The charity suggests giving it some time and says you may have to try on several occasions before someone feels comfortable enough to confide in you.

If and when they do open up to you, Women’s Aid points out that it takes huge strength and courage for someone to come to terms with the abuse they might be experiencing, don’t pressure them for details they clearly don’t feel comfortable divulging.

Don’t pressure them to leave

Refuge says that while this might seem like the most obvious way you could help someone, the complexity surrounding domestic violence cases can render it incredibly difficult for a victim to simply walk away. It might be that their abuser has total control of their finances or has manipulated them into thinking they cannot possibly leave, they explain.

Criticising someone for staying with an abusive partner is likely only to exacerbate things by either alienating them further from you or making them feel ashamed, they add.

“It’s important to remember that leaving an abusive partner takes a lot of strength and courage," adds Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns at Women's Aid.

"Often there are many barriers to a survivor leaving their abusive partner – whether it fear of what the abuser might do if she tries to leave, she might have children or a shared home to think about, while the lasting impact of controlling behaviour or financial abuse might make the barriers to leaving seem insurmountable."

Leaving is ultimately a decision they will need to come to on their own, she tells The Independent.

Accompany them wherever possible if and when they choose to take action

If they have been physically abused, offer to go with them to their GP or a local hospital, suggests Women’s Aid.

The charity suggests that if they want to report an assault to the police, offer to help them do so. Likewise, if they choose to seek help from a solicitor, accompany them, it adds.

Encourage them to maintain their other relationships

It’s common for abusive partners to try to isolate victims from their friends and family, explains Refuge.

Finding ways to help them maintain a close circle of people around them will boost their self-esteem and ensure they feel supported and loved, the charity adds.

Encourage them to contact a local domestic violence organisation

When it comes to helping someone experiencing domestic violence, there is only so much you can do. There will also be times that you may not be contactable. Refuge and Women’s Aid suggest encouraging them to call, or at least make a note of, the freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, which is run by both organisations. This will ensure they know that confidential support is available 24/7.

You could also point them towards smaller charities that also help victims of domestic abuse survivors rebuild their lives, such as ALICAS, which provides clothing to people fleeing abusive partners and helps them to regain a sense of identity and confidence.

Reassure them that they are not responsible for their partner’s behaviour

The National Domestic Violence Hotline says one of the most harmful tactics of domestic abusers is gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse that leaves victims questioning their own perception of reality due to the way their partner has manipulated them.

Reassuring your friend that nobody deserves to be beaten, threatened or controlled will help combat this and prevent them from blaming themselves for their partner’s behaviour, Women’s Aid explains.

“Nothing she can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour,” the charity adds.

Look after yourself

Supporting someone through domestic abuse can be emotionally taxing.

Hawkins stresses the importance of taking care of yourself too and urges people not to compromise their own safety.

"It is important to remember not to put yourself in a dangerous situation by trying to talk to the abuser yourself."

If you have been affected by any issues mentioned in this article, you can contact the Domestic Violence Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247 or any of the following organisations:

Women’s Aid

Refuge

White Ribbon

ALICAS

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