Helpful support for a woman who has experienced abuse
Make her safety (emotional and physical) the priority. Don’t do anything without her explicit permission. Without meaning to, you could make the situation worse or put her at risk for harm. Ask her what you can do that would be helpful to her. Being a listening ear is very helpful and may be all that you can do right now.
Let the woman be the expert on her own life. She knows more about herself, her partner and her children than you ever will. You can support her but you should not take over her decision making process. Rather, you can help her listen to her gut and figure out what is going to be best or safest for her. Too often friends, family or professionals try to tell the woman what to do and sometimes even threaten to withdraw support if the woman does not do what she is told. If you do this, you have become like her partner – controlling and rather than being helpful, you are actually disempowering her.
Believe the woman. Lots of people will listen to the woman’s “side” and then the man’s “side” and decide that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. Men who are abusive always minimize their abusive behaviour and will often lie about their partners. Women who have been abused also tend to minimize the abuse, usually because they want to be “fair” to their partner.
Be a listening ear and know that you need to be there for the long haul. It is very common that a woman will need months or years to put a plan in place that will lead eventually to a better life. As outsiders, we often hear women’s pain and want to do something quickly to fix it. When women don’t act quickly to “get out” often friends and family grow frustrated and walk away from the woman. This leaves the woman even more isolated and vulnerable. The woman may just need to be listened to and encouraged. Whatever plans she may put in place are likely to be “baby steps” towards a better future. This is good! The only way any woman finds her way through the minefield that is abuse is through baby steps.
Don’t be surprised that the abuse continues after separation. Men, who are abusive, will continue to abuse after separation. They will do this through any ties that the man and woman still have in common (eg. children, assets, the court process, pets, mutual friends etc.) Many women find the first year or two after separation extremely difficult. This is one of the reasons that it is important to know that you, as a support person, need to be there for a woman over the long haul.