Five Ways to Take Action Against Abuse
School’s out and summer is in! Which usually means you, or your kids, are getting to spend more time with their friends and family. Knowing this, as part of Mary Kay’s commitment to help prevent and end dating abuse, we’ve asked Brian Pinero from our non-profit partner loveisrespect to share ways to be supportive if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. Brian has previously supervised youth shelter services, was an investigator for Child Protective Services and worked as a juvenile probation officer and is currently the Vice President of Development & Strategic Initiatives at loveisrespect.
Whenever I talk to people about what they can do if they know someone in an abusive relationship, I tell them that the single most important thing is to believe them! I can’t tell you how many of the victims and survivors that I have spoken to over the years break down and breathe a sigh of relief, all because I told them, “I believe you.” Each of us – whether friend, parent or bystander – can be an agent of change in a victim's life by believing them and taking the time to learn a few best practices.
1. Get educated. Abusive relationships are extremely complex, and usually have several forms of abuse happening within them. Learning about the different types of abuse and the warning signs for each, as well as the dynamics of power and control, can help you understand what a victim is experiencing. Also, learning how to start a conversation with a victim and safely support them will help them feel safe and heard when discussing their relationship. Visit thehotline.org to learn more.
2. The victim is the expert. No matter how much we might know about someone’s situation, they ultimately know what is possible and what their partner is capable of. Ultimatums, pressure to leave or forcing someone to do something they are not ready to do can actually make the situation more dangerous and push them away. When discussing a person’s relationship, ask them: What do you feel safe doing? What support do you need? Let them tell you what they are capable of and what they need in that moment.
3. Have patience. Leaving a non-abusive relationship can be difficult; leaving an abusive one is even harder. It takes time to gather the strength, develop a plan and have the necessary supports in place when leaving. It can be a long, incredibly scary process for someone who has been terrorized and made to feel worthless. Remember that for someone to have the courage to even talk with you about their abusive relationship is an incredible step.
4. Learn about safety planning. This is one of the most important things any person can do when helping a friend or a loved one. A safety plan is a personalized plan that focuses on the safety of a victim and helps them avoid dangerous situations or have a reaction plan if a situation escalates. A safety plan can be created to help the victim leave or stay safe in an abusive relationship, but it must be designed with the input of the victim. You might work with them to identify an escape plan, create a list of who to call when they leave or identify safe spaces in their home if a fight escalates. A safety plan should be simple and easy for the person to remember in a moment of crisis.
5. Practice self-care. Another important thing to remember when helping someone in an abusive relationship is that you have to take care of yourself. The emotional toll that comes with supporting a victim can be incredibly draining. It is okay to step away, focus on your needs and remember that you can’t make someone leave a relationship. Speaking to an advocate at loveisrespect or talking with a professional counselor can also help you deal with the feelings and stresses that come with being in a victim’s support system.
Although it may not seem like much, you are making a difference by being supportive. But even if you follow all of these tips, it’s important to remember that a person in an abusive relationship must make their own choice to leave in their own time and on their own terms if they are to leave ultimately for good.