If you think a friend is in a dangerous relationship, domestic violence experts share how you can help her and perhaps save her life:
1. Let your friend know you’re there for her.“The number one weapon abusers use is isolation,” says Brian Namey of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “They do not want their victims to feel supported.” Fight back by saying, “I miss hanging out. How are you?” That way, she’ll know she can open up to you when she’s ready.
2. Be direct.Say, “I’m concerned that this person isn’t treating you the way you deserve, and that’s not OK. Here are some options to look into should you feel the need,” and provide ideas.
3. Don’t judge.“If you ask your friend, ‘How can you be with someone like this?’ or ‘Why are you choosing to stay in this relationship?’ it solidifies the false belief that she is the problem,” Namey says.
4. Don’t command her to leave him — it will only alienate her. Instead, says psychologist Veronique Valliere, emphasize your concern: “Say, ‘I’m really afraid for you.’ ” And if you think she’s in immediate danger? “Say, ‘You need to leave for the night. Do you have a safe place to go?’ Don’t say, ‘You need to leave forever’; that’s too drastic. But little leave-takings will give her the practice she needs to eventually flee for good.”
5. When she confides in you, don’t demonize her abuser. She’ll probably just feel compelled to defend him. Instead, keep reiterating, “You don’t deserve this. No one does.” Her abuser is giving her a million reasons why he hits her — remind her that there’s never a good reason to be beaten.
6. Offer small, concrete steps to keep her safe. Encourage her to keep an emergency stash (clothes, house and car keys, copies of important documents, some cash, a list of emergency contact numbers) in a safe place away from her home, like at your house or at work.
7. Be part of her safety plan. Get to know the situations in which she’s most likely to get hurt — say, Friday nights after he’s been out drinking — and check in on her then. Develop a code word she can use as a distress signal, like “my friend Lisa,” suggests Valliere: “You can call and say, ‘Heard from Lisa lately?’ ” Have a plan for what will happen next, says Valliere, “whether it’s calling the police or sending her dad over — whatever will ease the situation.”
8. Be patient with her. “Each time she leaves him, it makes her a little stronger,” says Sue Else, president of NNEDV. “She’s moving forward at her own pace, even though it may not be at your pace.”