The World Health Organization defines Intimate Partner Violence as follows:
“Any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship. Examples of types of behaviour are listed below. Acts of physical violence, such as slapping, hitting, kicking and beating. Sexual violence, including forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion. Emotional (psychological) abuse, such as insults, belittling, constant humiliation, intimidation (e.g. destroying things), threats of harm, threats to take away children. Controlling behaviours, including isolating a person from family and friends; monitoring their movements; and restricting access to financial resources, employment, education or medical care.”
Intimate partner violence (IPV) may include physical violence, sexual coercion, emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. Each of these factors has been shown to adversely affect the abused partner’s mental and physical health in a manner that persists long after the violence stops. IPV, which is most commonly perpetrated by men against women is also tied to negative outcomes for the couple’s children including anxiety, depression, poor academic performance and adverse healthy consequences.
If you believe someone you care about is in an abusive relationship, consider the following guidelines to offer effective and caring support:
- Set up a time to talk. If possible, find a private time and place so that you won’t be interrupted. If this isn’t possible, be creative and consider slipping away to the restroom or another private space.
- Be straightforward and supportive. You might say something as simple as “I’ve noticed _________ (e.g. bruises on your arm, that you seem afraid in their presence, that they try to control what you say) and I’m concerned. What can I do to help?” You can offer assurance that you’ll keep your conversations private and ask them what they require in order to feel safe.
- Let your concerns about rejection and personal discomfort take a back seat to your concerns for their safety. Oftentimes, intimate partner abuse is ignored as a private problem and friends, family and other potential sources of support avoid important conversations out of fear of interfering in so-called private matters. These fears facilitate abuse in the domestic sphere and further intensify the isolation in which abuse festers; if you’re concerned, speak up. Your discomfort pales in comparison to their fear of shouldering abuse in isolation.
- Be prepared. Connect with resources in your community in advance. Call the hotlines, contact housing support resources and reach out to potential allies in advance so that you can provide accurate and updated information. You may want to begin with the resources listed below.
- Listen and believe what they tell you. You may have dozens of solutions in mind, but your first job is to listen and trust that the information they provide you with is accurate. They are the ultimate experts in their own experience. Support them in cultivating whatever skills they feel are required to cope/leave. Be patient and don’t expect them to embrace your idea of the appropriate solution/action.
- Validate their feelings and offer support to counteract victim-blaming. Remind them that they are not responsible for their partner’s abuse. Abusers are skilled at manipulation and reinforcing victim-blaming rhetoric, so if you’re given the opportunity to dismantle these beliefs, do so in a caring way. For example, you might simply say “It’s not your fault” or “You’re not to blame”. Do not further reinforce victim-blaming by shaming or judging them for staying in the relationship.
- Offer specific help. Can you assist with housing, child care, transportation, daily logistics and/or financial aid? Be specific so that they can make a plan that works for them. Ask them how you can help. If they ask you to do something that you cannot do, be honest and seek out additional sources of support (e.g. other friends, family members or local agencies) who may be able to assist.
- Whether they decide to leave their partner or remain in the relationship, continue to offer support. Don’t give up. Reach out regularly. Continue to ask if you can be of assistance without judgment.
- Offer support unconditionally. Do not place conditions upon your offer of support (i.e. offer money only if they promise to leave within a set period of time). You may think you’re helping, but being supportive means allowing them to generate a plan that works specifically for them — not for you.
Intimate Partner Violence Resources and Hotlines:
Shelter Safe (Canada)
National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA) 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (USA) Directory of state offices that assist with support, shelter and legal services.