Do’s and Don’ts: What Not Say to a Domestic Violence Survivor
Do you have a friend or a family member who was in an abusive situation, but you don’t know the best things to say to offer your support? For domestic violence survivors like me, the journey to heal and recover is a daily struggle. I’ll share with you some things that have been said to me that have negatively impacted my journey. Here are some unhelpful comments AND better alternatives.
1) Don’t say: Why didn’t you just leave?
For many outside of the situation, it’s hard to understand why someone would stay in an abusive relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline explains that some people who are abused don’t understand how a healthy relationship is supposed to function, or they worry that their safety could be threatened if they leave.
Instead, say this: I’m glad you’re safe now that you’re out of that situation.
2) Don’t say: Can’t you just move on?
Many times, domestic violence survivors deal with trauma and PTSD long after the abusive relationship is over. You want them to feel safe talking to you. Saying this will make them feel guilty as well as diminish and depreciate the grieving process your friend is experiencing and the time they need to healthily get through it.
Instead, say this: Are you open to asking for professional help?
3) Don’t say: He/She was always so nice to me.
My abuser was very charismatic and charming. He knew how to make himself look good in front of others. Taking an attitude of disbelief towards someone who has been abused is not helpful. If you’re not equipped to help him/her, make a referral to someone who can.
Instead, say this: I know it’s complicated. This does not change how I feel about you.
4) Don’t say: There are two sides to every story.
Survivors often fear people won’t believe them when they finally reveal the truth about their abusive situation. Suggesting to your friend that they may have caused the violence or that their abuser may have a reason for their abusive behavior can be harmful to their recovery. Many of them already blame themselves for the situation.
Instead, say this: You didn’t deserve what happened to you, and it’s not your fault.
5 ) Don’t say: What did you do to make them hit you?
Questions like this shift the blame on to the survivor. Abuse or violence of any kind is never the victim’s fault. Responsibility always lies with the abuser and with them, alone. Instead, without judging, confirm to him/her that their situation is/was dangerous, and you are concerned for her safety.
Before you judge a survivor for staying, try to empathize with the victim. There is no correct, easy way to handle abuse. Every situation is different. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 for advice and assistance if you are unsure how to help. Whatever you do, DO NOT send someone who is in danger back home!