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What to do if someone you know is being abused?

Do you have a friend, family member, or someone you’re worried about? Maybe you’ve noticed changes in his or her behavior. There are often obvious signs of intimate partner violence, and there's a lot you can do to help. Try to approach it in a sensitive and safety conscious way. Remember, people do not always trust that your assistance will be helpful and they may fear your involvement will make things worse.Here are some tips if you think someone you care about is being abused:


Speak Up

Don't be afraid to tell them you are concerned for their safety and want to help them in a way that they find safe and meaningful.


Be Sensitive

Acknowledge and try to be understanding of their feelings about their relationship -- remember, many people are in love with their abusers or fear that engaging in help seeking at that time could make things much worse.Remember that they are the expert on their abuser and may not agree with your advice on what to do -- be respectful of their decisions and keep being there for them.  It is a big decision to leave an abuser which often results a number of other significant losses for the victim.  Only the victim can decide what is best for her and her family and will be required to live with the resulting outcomes.



Sometimes the most helpful thing is to just listen and be supportive.  Let the victim know you’re ready to help whenever she’s ready.


Be There For Them

Encourage them to do things with you, other friends, and family. Get them excited to do things outside of their relationship. An abuser often uses isolation as an effective tool in maintain control over the victim and limiting her access to help and information.  It is important to find a way to remain in the victim’s life in a safe and supportive way no matter how frightening it is or how frustrated you become.


Connect Them to Resources

They may not even realize they are in an abusive relationship. Send them to a website like  to get the facts.  Public libraries also have helpful books on domestic violence.  If it is not safe for her to have reading material at home, you can offer to keep the resources for her.Help them develop a plan to be safer in the relationship or to end their relationship safely when they are ready.


Stay Supportive

If they break up with the abuser, keep being supportive once they are single. Healing takes time, but maintaining healthy supportive relationships can aid in the process of healing from trauma.


Ways to Begin Supportive Conversation about the Abuse:


It might feel awkward. If it is hard for you, imagine what it is like being the one who is abused. Here are some conversation starters:

  • “What's it like at home for you?”

  • “Are you ever scared of your partner?”

  • “How does your partner handle it when s/he doesn't get his/her way?”

  • “Sometimes when people have injuries like yours it's because they were hurt by their partner.  Is that happening to you?”

  • “I believe you.”

  • “It’s not your fault 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 behavior.”

  • “No matter what you did, you do not deserve this.”


Help your friend or family member recognize the abuse while acknowledging that she is in a very difficult and dangerous situation.


Don't be afraid to tell her you're concerned for her 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 husbands and partners don’t say or do those kinds of things.”

“The way he treats you is wrong. Men should never hit or threaten the women they love.”

“I’m worried about your safety and am afraid he’ll really hurt you next time.”

“Promise me that if you need to talk, you’ll come to me.”

“It usually gets worse, not better.”

Avoid confrontations or trying to “force” the victim on discloses details of the abuse. It’s important to empower and support her.


Do not try to control or force her.

“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.”

Don’t try to make any decisions for your friend or family member because it implies that you think she’s incapable of making good choices for herself and it may deter her 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 her to get help. Help her look into available resources, such as the Iowa Domestic Violence Hotline number (800-942-0333) or a local domestic violence agency with specially-trained advocates to help her out of the situation.


Suggest ways she can get additional support.

“Here is the number to our local domestic violence agency. They can help provide shelter, counseling or support groups.”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, court, or a lawyer, I can go with you to offer support.”

Here are some things to avoid saying.


These sound victim-blaming.

“You shouldn't put up with this.”

“Why don't you just leave him/her?”

“Why do you let him/her do this to you?”

“How did you get involved with someone like this?”

“What did you do to provoke it?”

“What could you do to stop your partner from abusing you?”

“He/she is a real jerk (loser, slime,  etc.)”

“You should go to marriage counseling together.”

If you are concerned about the safety of your friend or family member, or to learn about service in your area, contact the Iowa Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-942—3333 or TTY 319-832-1490.  We also recommend the book To Be an Anchor in the Storm: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women by Susan Brewster.

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