What keeps you in an abusive relationship

Domestic violence: this is how you can help affected friend

In 2020, the number of victims of domestic violence in Germany was again at a high level. Violent crimes in relationships are said to have increased slightly compared to the previous year. A total of almost 142,000 such acts were recorded by the police, which is a one percent increase compared to 2019. This increase is likely to be related to the outbreak of the pandemic and the associated lockdowns: Since we are all stuck at home due to the Corona security measures, existing tensions are exacerbated and thus the risk of falling victim to domestic violence. Being friends with someone who is in an abusive relationship can be both terrifying and frustrating because you often don't know how to best act to help.
We reached out to Angela Lee. She is the head of loveisrespect, a project that aims to support young people in abusive relationships. She points out that abuse can come in many different forms - physical, emotional, verbal. No two abusive partnerships are alike. That is why there are no general strategies that can be applied to all situations and that always work. However, she shared some general advice with us on how to be there for friends who (presumably) have been affected by domestic violence.
Lee emphasizes that abuse can take many different forms and manifest itself in different ways on a case-by-case basis. But it does point out some common warning signs: when your friends keep getting tons of notifications and calls from their partners; if their behavior or mood changes; when they come across as nervous; when it is really difficult to get in touch with them; when their partners frequently blame them for disputes or situations.
Basically, if your friends behave noticeably different inside or you can simply sense that something is wrong, this could mean that it is time for a clarifying conversation with them.

Make your friends feel safe with you

If you suspect that your friends are victims of domestic violence, the biggest mistake you can make is not to say a word about it, says Lee. How you can offer a helping hand, however, depends on your friends: inside and your relationship with them, she adds. In general, you can start the conversation cautiously with a less explosive question. So you can ask, for example, how things are going with your partner, how they react when a situation escalates, or whether they are tormented by any worries. "You should make sure that those affected feel that they are in good hands with you and that they have the feeling that they can talk everything off their feet," explains Lee. It points out that victims of abuse may feel ashamed and / or fearful of being judged. Therefore, one of your main goals should be to create a calming and loving atmosphere during this important conversation.
During this conversation, it is important that the other person feels supported. “If your friends are visualizing their feelings and reactions, you should normalize them and draw attention to them, if necessary,” she explains. "If someone says, 'I'm so tired of being constantly accused of cheating,' you can name this behavior and say, 'This could be a case of emotional or verbal abuse." "
Make sure you ask how you can be of help, says Lee. “It's okay to point out that your friends deserve to be treated with respect. In any case, give them the opportunity to speak about everything without judgment. "

Consult experts

Although you would without question do anything for friends in need, in this situation it can be helpful - or even life-saving - to ask experts for support. "Often times, you are not sure whether it is actually abuse," says Lee. “We hear that very often. It is therefore always advisable to turn to experts, because they can help you determine this with greater certainty. who specialize in domestic violence to find out how best to provide help.
If your friends don't want to talk to you about their relationship, or if they resist - which Lee says is a common occurrence - then don't force anything. Instead, you can refer to contact points, such as the help line, for example. "We know which questions to ask and discuss the next steps with the victims of abuse and develop protection concepts," she explains. "We want to make sure that the emotional and physical security of those affected has top priority."

Put your safety first

Aside from helping your friends get in touch with a counseling facility for the first time, helping them create a safety plan is very important, says Lee. "You have to be able to assess whether they are safe or have been threatened," she explains. For example, you can keep copies of your friends' important documents inside in case they have to flee their homes. You can also come up with code words so you can talk about an incident without the perpetrators' knowledge, suggests Lee. You can also make yourself useful by documenting abusive incidents.
You can also ask those affected how, according to them, you should react in moments of crisis: Is it okay for them if you contact a family member in such a situation? Do they allow you to call the police in an emergency? "If they are open to it, you can encourage them to take up referral offers after an initial consultation," says Lee.
While you may want to, you cannot force your friends to leave their partners before they are ready to take the step. “The most important thing is not to try to pressure others into trying to make them do something they don't want to do. Caution is advised here because you want to empower those affected to make the right decisions for themselves, ”says Lee. “You shouldn't tell others what to do. Also, you shouldn't blame victims of domestic violence for their predicament. If they confide in you and ask you not to abuse their trust, you should definitely try to respect their wishes. "
Try to be supportive, listen patiently, and respect the decisions of those affected. "It's also important to keep reminding them and emphasizing that your friends are not guilty of abuse inside and that they deserve a healthy relationship," says Lee. “Keep giving them a helping hand even if you disagree with their decisions.” And remember, the only thing you can do wrong in situations like this is to let your friends down inside. They need you, even if they just want to hear the words “I'll be there when you need me”.
If you are looking for advice and need help, you can contact the helpline, which offers a nationwide advice service for people who have experienced or are still experiencing violence. At the number08000 116 016 and through online advice, this facility supports people of all nationalities, with and without disabilities - 365 days a year, around the clock.