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How can I help?

As part of Findaway we will be working with people who have supported their family and friends through controlling and dangerous relationships to put together helpful information and resources for anyone worried about someone else's relationship. We will be adding these resources to this page as we develop them.

 

In the meantime, take a look at some of our suggestions for helpful things to say if someone you know is being controlled, scared, or hurt by someone they love. 

1. What can I say?

2. What can I do?

3. What if it's an emergency?

4. Who else can help?

5. How can I look after myself?

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What can I say?
What can I do?
What if it's an emergency?

What can I say?

There are many reasons someone might be reluctant to speak out if they are being controlled, scared or hurt by their partner or family member. For example, they might blame themselves, they might be afraid to bring shame on their community or family, they might not recognise what is happening as abuse, or they might still love their abuser and want to protect them. Perhaps most importantly, they might be scared of their abuser and the consequences for them and their children.

 

These are just some of the things that might prevent the person you're worried about from sharing what’s happening, it also might mean if you have concerns and try to talk to them about it, they might deflect your support and deny that anything is wrong.  

If someone does share their experiences with you, how you respond can make a huge difference. We know that many people have to speak out multiple times before they get a supportive response. Once someone has received a supportive response they are more likely to speak out again, and they might go on to get more support elsewhere. 

We want the first response to always be a supportive one. Here are some tips on how to respond if someone does open up to you: 

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Be patient

Usually it takes women who experience domestic abuse several years to seek help. This means patience is key when expressing your concerns. Don't take it personally if they don’t immediately confide in you, make sure they know you are always there if they do need you, and trust that when they can, they will speak up. 

Listen & believe

If someone tells you about abuse, or worrying behaviour they are experiencing, make sure you listen and validate their experience. Brushing it off or trying to reassure them that it’s a one-off will make it harder for them to talk about it. Trust what they say and let them know that you believe them.

 

Simply giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they're feeling, can be really helpful in itself. If they're finding it difficult, let them know that you're there when they are ready. 

Try not to make assumptions. Your perspective might be useful to them, but try not to assume that you already know what has happened, or what will help. They know their situation better than anyone.

Be calm

Even though it might be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is being treated that way and at risk of harm, try to stay calm. This will help the person you care about feel calmer too, and show them that they can talk to you openly without upsetting you. 

Acknowledge

Acknowledge and believe how hard it must have been for them to share this with you. Show them you care and are concerned. Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse. 

Acknowledge that they are in a frightening and very difficult situation. Give them time to talk, but don’t push them to go into too much detail if they don’t want to. 

Tell them it’s not their fault

Many abusers will make the person they abuse blame themselves and will use psychological abuse to weaken their judgement and self-esteem. Tell them that no one deserves to be treated that way, despite what their abuser has told them.  

Nothing they can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour. Reassure them that abuse can happen to anyone and the only person responsible is the abuser. 

Don’t judge them

Don’t ask why they haven’t left or judge their choices. Instead, build their confidence and focus on their strengths. People in abusive relationships need support and understanding – not judgement.  

There are many reasons why it’s difficult for someone being abused to leave. Those reasons are all valid for them. Leaving is a process and they may make many attempts.  Remember, the abuser alone is responsible for the abuse. 

Remind them they’re not alone

Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. The person you care about may have been deliberately isolated. Say you are there for them, and that there are solutions. Tell them that they are not alone and that there are many people in the same situation. 

Let them know they have options and that there are support services available. Be ready to provide information on organisations that can offer support. Reassure them by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help. Explore the available options with them. Find your local service at Who else can help?

Give them time

It might take them several tries before they confide in you. Be patient. You might want to know more details, or want them to get help immediately. However, it's important to let them set the pace for seeking help. Support them at their own pace. 

 

Let them make their own decisions. The person you’re worried about is the expert in their own life and their choices need to be respected without judgement. They might not want additional support right now. Let the person you’re worried about tell you what they want and need - don’t try to solve the problem, rescue them or give advice. 

 

It’s important not to tell someone to leave an abusive relationship. This has to be their own decision. Many people will never leave the abuser, and whilst it might feel frustrating to see someone stay in an abusive relationship, supporting their decisions will help them trust you and keep you connected. 

Be there

The abuser will try to isolate them, making it harder to reach out to someone or ask for help. Whether they leave or stay, be understanding and available. Even if they always say no, contact them to ask if they want to meet-up, invite them to social activities and ask how they are. Try and keep in touch with them, stay connected - it might seem like something small, but it can make a huge difference.

Be safe

Finally, be safe - don’t put yourself or the person you're worried about at risk. Try and talk face-to-face and in private if you can. Remember that their social media, phone, and emails might be monitored. Never confront the abuser or act as a go-between.

What can I do?

There are lots of practical things you might be able to do support someone, if that’s what they want you to do. For example: 

  • Look for information that might be helpful and be ready to provide information on organisations that offer specialist support. Offer to sit with them and explore the available options. Go to Who else can help? for some ideas on where you can look.

  • Ask if they have been physically hurt or if their health has been affected. If so, offer to go with them to a hospital or to see their GP. 

  • Help them to report an incident to the police if they choose to do so. 

  • If they are going to an appointment (e.g. with their doctor, solicitor or specialist support worker) help them to write down lists of questions that they want to ask, or points they want to make.

  • Go to appointments with them, if they want you to – even just being there in the waiting room can help someone feel reassured. 

  • Go with them to visit a solicitor if they are ready to take this step. 

  • Help them to keep records of the abuse, keep a log of incidents, things they have told you, messages and photos of any injuries or damage to property. Make sure this is kept somewhere safe where the abuser cannot see it, and that the abuser can’t see that messages, screenshots or photos have been sent to someone else.

  • Ask them if there are any practical tasks you could help with, for example: 

  • offering them a lift somewhere 

  • arranging childcare for them 

  • helping with a household task 

  • Offer them the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell them you will look after an emergency bag for them, if they want this. 

  • Let them create their own boundaries of what they think is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge them to follow any strategies that they express doubt about. ​​

 

  • Look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Don't put yourself into a dangerous situation, and be realistic about what you can and can't help with.

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What if it's an emergency?

Breaking someone’s trust may mean that they are unlikely to trust other people in the future and may put them at additional risk. However, there may be times when you feel someone needs help urgently, for example if you’re worried: 

  • That someone is at immediate, serious risk of harm, such as death or serious injury and that it could happen soon.

  • About the welfare of a child or vulnerable adult.

If anyone is in immediate danger contact the police on 999 as soon as possible.

 

  • If you do have to break someone’s trust and tell someone else what is happening, try to keep them in control as much as possible, whilst keeping yourself safe. This could mean that you tell the person you are worried about what your concerns are and, if appropriate, contact the relevant services together.  

  • If you or others feel in danger right now call 999 and ask for the police to help. You might feel worried about getting someone in trouble, but it's important to put your own safety first. 

 

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child or a vulnerable adult contact social services.  

If you are worried about someone and unsure what to do, seek out advice. 

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Who else can help?

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There are lots of specialist support services who have useful information on their websites and offer helplines which the person you're worried about will be able to use, if that's what they want to do.

Findaway is a Sunderland based service, if you live in Sunderland your local domestic abuse service is WWIN.

If you're based outside of Sunderland you can find your local service using the Women's Aid Service Directory.

The 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247

How can I look after myself?

Think about safety: 
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Make sure that you don't put yourself in a dangerous situation; for example: 

  • do not offer to talk to the abuser about the situation or his behaviour.

  • do not let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.

  • remember that their social media, phone, and emails might be monitored.

  • never confront the abuser.

Supporting someone else can be challenging and upsetting. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance to help someone else.  For example: 

  • Take a break when you need it. If you're feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone or it's taking up a lot of time or energy, taking some time for yourself can help you feel refreshed. 

  • Talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling. You need to be careful about how much information you share about the person you're supporting, but talking about your own feelings to a friend can help you feel supported too.  

  • Set boundaries and be realistic about what you can do. Remember that small, simple things can help, and that just being there for them is really important. Healthy boundaries are good for our own wellbeing and they also help us support others better too. Boundaries are also important because abusers will frequently try and push or ignore the boundaries others have set, and the person you’re worried about might not feel they have the right to set boundaries in the first place. ​Examples of boundaries might be setting limits on what you can help with, what times you can be available to talk, or deciding what does and doesn’t feel ok to talk about. 

If you have your own experiences of abuse it is up to you how open you choose to be about this. If you do decide to share, consider how you would feel if you received a negative response.  

The person you’re worried about might compare their experience to yours and may seek to minimize their own experiences, find differences between your experiences or may feel guilty at discussing their experiences with you.  

If asked outright if you’ve experienced abuse you could return the conversation to them e.g. “let’s talk about you right now”. 

Should I share my own experiences? 
Think about your own wellbeing: 
Who else can help?
Self-care
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