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Bystanders and Community Response to Domestic Violence

If you believe that a friend or loved one is being abused by their partner, talking with them can be difficult and uncomfortable.

It is important to remember that you cannot force or “rescue” your loved one from an abusive relationship. If your loved one does decide to stay in the abusive relationship, it is important that they know they have your love and support.

The following are some helpful tips to help support your loved one who may be in an unhealthy and abusive relationship:

Offer support without judgment or criticism

There are many reasons why a victim may stay in abusive relationships.
Let your loved one know it’s not their fault and that they are not alone.

Respect their decisions, even when you don’t agree with them.
Do not criticize or guilt them- they need you to be helpful and not hurtful.

Some talking points you can use:

  • “It’s not your fault s/he treats you that way.”
  • “I know this is difficult to discuss, but please know you can talk to me about anything.”
  • “You are not alone. I care about you and am here for you, no matter what.”
  • “You are not responsible for his/her behavior.”
  • “No matter what you did, you do not deserve this.”

Tell your friend you are concerned for their safety

Let your friend know that while you respect their decision to stay in an unhealthy relationship, you are worried about their safety.

  • “I see what is going on with you and _______ and I want to help.”
  • “You don’t deserve to be treated that way. Good partners don’t say or do those kinds of things.”
  • “The way s/he treats you is wrong. Men/Women should never hit or threaten the woman/man they love.”
  • “I’m worried about your safety and am afraid he’ll/she’ll really hurt you next time.”
  • “Promise me that if you need to talk, you’ll come to me.”

Help your friend make a safety plan

Creating a safety plan is a great tool in helping your friend or loved one stay safe while in an abusive relationship. Consider the following when working on a safety plan:

  • Prepare an emergency bag. Have your friend put together a bag that includes money, copies of house and car keys, medicine, and copies of important papers such as birth certificates, social security cards, immigration documents, court orders, and health insurance information. The bag could also include extra clothes, important phone numbers, or other things they might need if they had to leave their home in a hurry. If they prepare an emergency bag, let them know they can keep it at your home for safe-keeping in the case of an emergency.
  • Plan with your friend how they would escape if they needed to. If they live in an apartment building, make sure they know all the ways out of the building. Consider what routes they could take to get to transportation, and where they could go to get to safety. You may want to help them identify a route to the subway that is different from their usual route, and plan to use that in an emergency.

Avoid confrontations

There are many reasons why individuals experiencing abuse don’t reach out to family and friends. It’s important to recognize if s/he is ready to talk about her/his experiences while offering support.

  • “I’m here to help and am always available, even if you don’t want to talk about it.”
  • Remember, you’re not alone – I am here for you when you’re ready to talk about it.”

Ask how you can be helpful

Don’t try to make any decisions for your friend because it implies that you think they are incapable of making good choices for themselves and it may deter them from confiding in you in the future. Instead, focus on offering support and encouragement.

  • “I want to help. What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I help protect your safety?”

Encourage your friend to get help

Suggest ways your friend can get additional support. Help them look into available resources, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) or by calling New Hope’s 24-hour hotline at
1-800-323-HOPE (4673).

  • “Here is the number to our local domestic violence agency. They can help provide shelter, counseling or support groups.” Or, if applicable:
  • “They also offer services to help you understand the legal system, access community resources, relocate or get support for your children.”
  • “Let’s develop a safety plan.”
  • “If you need to go to the police [or court or a lawyer], I can go with you to offer support.”

Safety Exit