My Friend is in an Abusive Relationship
Each year many college students are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused by their partners. If you are concerned that your friend may be in an abusive relationship, below is information about how you can help. Also, because misconceptions about relationship violence can sometimes keep friends from sharing their concerns with the person being abused, below is a list of the most common reasons why friends don't speak up—but why they should.
How to Help¹
- Don’t be afraid to let your friend know that you are concerned for their safety. Help your friend recognize the abuse. Tell your friend you see what is going on and that you want to help. Help your friend to recognize that what is happening is not “normal” and tor something someone deserves in a healthy, non-violent relationship.
- Acknowledge that he or she is in a very difficult and scary situation. Let your friend know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure your friend that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there.
- Be supportive. Listen to your friend. Remember that it may be difficult for him or her to talk about the abuse. Let your friend know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What your friend needs most is someone who will believe and listen to them.
- Be non-judgmental. Respect your friend's decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. Your friend may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize your friend's decisions or try to make your friend feel guilty. Your friend will need your support even more during those times.
- Encourage your friend to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family.
- If your friend ends the relationship, continue to be supportive. Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. Your friend will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
- Help your friend to develop a safety plan.
- Encourage your friend to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Safer Futures is a local agency that can provide support, shelter for women, legal advocacy and referrals. The SRVSS Office and Townhall II can also provide support and referrals. Offer to go with your friend to talk to family and friends. If your friend has to go to the police or court or to talk to a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support.
Remember that you cannot “rescue” your friend. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately the person getting hurt has to be the one to decide to do something about it. It’s important for you to support their decision and help the person find a way to safety and peace.
Thoughts That May Keep You From Speaking to Your Friend²
- The violence can’t really be that serious. Dating violence includes threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It is rarely a one-time occurrence and usually escalates in frequency and severity. Even if the violence is “only” verbal, it can seriously affect the victim’s health and well-being, so any act of dating violence is something to take seriously.
- My friend must be doing something to provoke the violence. A victim of dating violence is never to blame for another person’s choice to use violence. Problems exist in any relationship, but the use of violence is never acceptable.
- If it’s so bad, why doesn't my friend just leave? For most of us, a decision to end a relationship is not easy. Your friend’s emotional ties to their partner may be strong, which can create hope that the violence will end. Perhaps your friend doesn't know about available resources or maybe the social and justice systems have been unhelpful in the past. Perhaps when your friend tried to end the relationship in the past, their partner used violence to stop them. There are many compelling reasons that may keep someone in an abusive relationship.
- I shouldn't get involved in a private matter. Dating violence is not a "personal problem." It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, your friend’s partner, your campus, and your entire community.
- I know the abusive person and I really don’t think they could hurt anyone. Many abusers are not violent in other relationships and can be charming in social situations. Yet, they can be extremely violent in private.
- The abusive person must be sick. Using violence and abuse is a learned behavior, not a mental illness. People who use violence and abuse to control their partners choose such behavior; viewing them as "sick" wrongly excuses them from taking responsibility for it.
- I think the abusive person has a drinking problem. Could that be the cause of violence? Alcohol or drug use may intensify violent behavior, but it does not cause violence or abuse. People who engage in abusive behavior typically make excuses for their violence, claiming a loss of control due to alcohol/drug use or extreme stress. Acting abusively, however, does not represent a loss of control, but a way of achieving it.
- How can my friend still care for someone who is abusive? Chances are, the abuser is not always abusive. They may show remorse for the violence after it happens and promise to change. Your friend may understandably hope for such changes. Their relationship probably involves good times, bad times, and in-between times.
- If my friend wanted my help, they would ask for it. Your friend may not feel comfortable confiding in you, afraid that you may not understand her/his situation. Talk to your friend about the abusive behaviors you have noticed, tell your friend no one deserves to be treated that way, and ask your friend how you can help.
¹Adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline
²Adapted from TheRedFlagCampaign.org