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Someone in your life has just entrusted you with a serious confession: She (or he) is being abused by their partner. They didn’t know who else to turn to, they says. At this pivotal moment, you want to say the exact right thing, but all you really want to do is tell them, in no uncertain terms, to GET OUT.
Janice Miller, director of client services at House of Ruth, an intimate partner violence center in Maryland, explains why this isn’t exactly what the survivor needs to hear right now.
“The goal in this conversation is not to get her to leave; the goal is to make sure she feels heard and validated. "The most important response a friend or family member can give is, 'I'm so sorry this is happening to you.' Acknowledge that this is a terrible thing they're expressing."
Then, you can share your concerns, says Miller, by saying something like, “I really want you to be in a safe relationship.” Keep the focus on her, not on her decision to stay in the relationship. “The problem with putting out a definitive statement like ‘You should leave,’ or ‘He’s no good,’ is that relationships are complicated and if there are good things about the relationship, it’s going to be difficult for the victim to walk away,” says Miller. If the survivor decides to stay in the relationship, says Miller, she will likely not go confide in that same friend in the future who told her, initially, to leave.
“Most people feel paralyzed when someone brings up intimate partner violence. So, they don’t act. This can leave a victim feeling like there’s no one to turn to,” says Miller. Remember that you don’t need to necessarily fix the situation; just listen. “They’re [the survivor] looking for someone to acknowledge that their situation is not OK. It sets up a counterpoint of view to the abusive partner who’s trying to put them down and isolate them. The victim can then start to compare who really has their best interest at heart.”
After listening, your next goal is to guide her to services that can help her, says Miller. Legal intervention, counseling or a shelter are good places to start. You can find services near you by entering your zip code here. We've also prepared this list of 25 Ways to Help Those Experiencing Abuse along with a toolkit that goes in-depth on how to help someone who is experiencing abuse.
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