Family, friends & witnesses

Do you know someone who has been affected by domestic violence?

Is your friend in an abusive relationship?

Have you witnessed violence in your neighborhood?


Domestic violence is not a private issue. Do not look away.


It is important to remember that domestic violence is complex. There are many reasons why somebody might stay in the relationship:

  • Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence. Emotional abuse can make victims feel powerless, disoriented, and helpless. This form of violence is often not recognized as such, and the impacts of emotional abuse are downplayed.
  • Abusive relationships are usually very romantic at the start and toxic partners seem loving, charming and understanding. Many victims long for this initial affection and believe that if they stay, things will go back to how they were.
  • Many victims of abuse are afraid to leave as perpetrators of physical and emotional violence often use intimidation, threats of physical harm or sexual violence to make them stay. Leaving a toxic relationship can be dangerous.
  • Financial and economic control can leave victims trapped. Their abusive partners might control finances, withhold money, or decide on how money is spent. This financial dependence can make it difficult for victims to leave.

Family and friends

Since family and friends are often the first point of contact for those affected, it is particularly important that they respond in an understanding and supportive manner. This is how you can help:

Educate yourself

The more you know about toxic relationships, the various forms of abuse and their impacts on health and well-being, the better you can help. Don’t force the conversation, focus on how a certain behavior or experience makes them feel and acknowledge that their feelings are legitimate.

This is domestic violence

You are not to blame

You are not crazy

Listen

It may be as hard for your friend or family member to open up about their toxic relationship than it is for you to hear about the abuse.

When they do, listen without judgement. Remarks such as «You just have to leave him/her» or «I don’t understand how you keep forgiving him/her» are not helpful. Remind your friend or family member that they are not alone and that you are here to support them. Make them feel safe.

Offer concrete help

Every victim of abuse has different needs. Ask your friend or family member how you can best support them but don’t push if they can’t give you an answer.

Dealing with a controlling and manipulative partner can be draining and often victims are unable to make decisions. It can therefore help to make concrete offers of support, such as providing your own Internet access or telephone, keeping evidence safe (e.g. photos, diaries) or helping them to organize appointments. Giving them an «alibi» or accompanying them to appointments can also be helpful.

Be patient

The decision to leave or take other action is up to your friend or family member. They can only make this decision when they feel ready for it. This can take time.

The longer somebody has been in a relationship, the more difficult it is to leave. If he/she has children, shares an apartment with the abuser or is financially dependent, taking the next step can be even more difficult. Be patient. You can let them know that you are concerned for their safety and encourage them to seek help.

Avoid confrontation

You want to rescue your friend or family member. This is understandable since it can be hard to witness someone you care about being physically and/or emotionally hurt and not being able to help.

You might even have the urge to confront the abuser. Don’t do that, it will only worsen the situation for your friend or family member and can put them in danger. If you have a hard time supporting them, find someone you can talk to – victim advisory centres are ready to help.

Support services

Witnesses

«My neighbor called the police when she heard screams. Within five minutes, the police officers were at our door. I was so happy to see them - but I would never had the courage to call them myself»

Have you ever witnessed incidents of violence in your neighborhood, place of work, or school/university? This can be very distressing.

  • When you hear screams or other suspicious noises in your neighborhood, it can put you in a difficult situation. However, it can be appropriate and sometimes even necessary to call the police (117). The number of the ambulance is 144. Domestic violence is no private matter.

  • If you meet someone you suspect of being a victim of abuse by his or herself, whether in the stairwell, the cafeteria, or the schoolyard, you can approach him/her carefully. However, it is very important to proceed cautiously (e.g. with questions such as "I heard something and I'm worried. Is there anything I can do for you?").

  • If you are unsure of what to do, you can always document the incidents and report to a victim advisory center. They do not only support victims of violence but also advise friends, family and witnesses of violence.