You may have noticed in a friend lowered self-esteem and other symptoms of depression. You may have even noticed bruises. Or you may see very little of your friend these days. Knowing that she is being abused is understandably cause for concern, and you'll need to be prepared with compassion, information and available resources when the time comes for you to approach the subject with her.
Understand the Dynamics of Intimate Partner Violence
Perpetrators of intimate partner violence utilize verbal, emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse to maintain power and control over their partners. The abuse is cyclic in nature, with periods of alleged remorse, sorrow, sensitivity and kindness on the part of the abuser. Promises of change generally leave victims feeling hopeful that their relationships can improve. Lack of income, housing, transportation and childcare are some of the many barriers they face when they do try to leave their batterers. Sometimes exhaustion and fear itself are enough to make ending the relationships seem impossible. If your friend is ready and willing to leave her boyfriend, be aware that it may take time and and multiple reconciliations before she is able to do so successfully.
Use your instincts when confronting your friend -- the approach will vary from relationship to relationship, depending on the strength of the connection between you. Do not do so in an aggressive manner. You can be casual, but serious. Ask your friend how her relationship with her boyfriend has been. Explain why you are concerned by providing examples of things you have noticed. For instance, you can point out occasions when her boyfriend interrupted her, commented on her appearance or took away her cell phone. She may be relieved to have the opportunity to talk openly with someone, embarrassed that someone noticed the mistreatment or possibly even deny that any such thing has occurred. Be prepared for a variety of responses. The goal is to communicate that you care.
What Else to Say
Let your friend know that you are worried about her and that she does not deserve to be abused. Refrain from judging her or her partner, which may lead her to feel defensive. Ask her to share her feelings, and keep them in confidence. Patience is vital -- do not pressure her to leave. Leaving an abusive relationship is very dangerous. As the perpetrator senses that he is losing control, the abuse is likely to become more severe. Your friend will act when she feels it is safest to do so.
What to Do
Connect your friend to her local battered women's program, where she can receive assistance with planning for her safety and support, regardless of how she proceeds with the abusive relationship. If she is agreeable, allow her to safely store important items at your home. These can include personal identification, tax and medical records, birth certificates, insurance paperwork, legal documents, medication, money, clothing jewelry and other property of sentimental or monetary value. With her permission, you may also accompany her to receive medical care, make police reports or appear in court.