How can I help a friend suffering from domestic violence?

When someone you know is in an abusive situation, it can make you feel powerless and angry. California state law does offer recourse, but it can feel insufficient when someone you love is in the balance. Being available to offer steady support and making your loved one aware of available options can make the difference in whether they get to a better situation.

The California Victim Compensation Board suggests things you can do from the outside to support someone in an abusive relationship.

What to understand

Domestic violence is often complicated. While it may seem simple to just leave, emotional attachments, habits, physical needs and children are just some of the factors that can make leaving feel like an insurmountable challenge. In many cases, leaving without proper planning can exacerbate the violence or result in ramifications to another family member.

Diverse mental health issues often play a role in domestic violence, on the part of the perpetrator and also the victim. Your loved one may be living with a mixture of emotions — fear, love and a desire to help the abuser are common feelings, however irrational it may seem to someone on the outside.

What to do

If you want to help, be available to listen. Let them know that you are there for them even if they are not ready to leave, but also make clear that you will help them get to safety when they are ready.

Research available resources in your area, and as you are able, make your friend aware of options and how to access them. If you can, talk through a fictional plan of leaving and seek solutions to concerns they may have. For example, if they are concerned the abuser will find them in a shelter, follow up with the facility to discover the safety protocol or identify options farther away.

Let your friend know that you have a bag packed and ready for them when they are ready to go. A prepaid cellphone, address book, money, medical kit, pictures of the abuser, bank statements and personal documents are all important items to include. Create a secret signal — a safe word, action, or message — to let you know when to call the authorities or to pick them up. Reinforce the narrative that they are not to blame for the abuse but that they can get help.