Helping a Friend in a Sexually Abusive Relationship
Is your friend in an abusive relationship?
A closer look at how you can support them
It is usually difficult to know if a friend is in a sexually abusive relationship. That being said, there are some warning signs that you might notice, especially in their behavior. These can also be true if your friend is in an emotionally, mentally, or physically abusive relationship.
What to look for:
Your friend is losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
Your friend is overly worried about what his or her boyfriend or girlfriend thinks
They’re acting overly happy or seem to be worried and anxious when with their partner
If someone calls your friend’s partner out on something negative, your friend makes excuses for their partner all the time
They avoid friends and social activities that do not include their partner
Your friend jokes about their partner’s violent outbursts
Your friend has unexplained injuries and the explanations seem odd or unlikely
Your friend’s behavior has changed dramatically since they started dating this current partner
How you can help
If you do suspect that your friend is being abused by their partner, there are some ways you can help, but it is always important to remember that if you believe that you or your friend are in some immediate danger, you need to go to the police.
Encourage your friend to talk. Try to get your friend to do most of the talking. Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your friend:
How are you feeling about your relationship?
What do your friends and family think about your relationship?
Do you have plans for the future of your relationship?
Try to talk when you’re alone with your friend, not in front of other friends or family members, especially their partner. Sometimes it can be easier to talk if you’re also focused on another activity like going for a drive, making a meal or doing the dishes. You should talk to your friend or seek help from an outside source, but do not confront your friend’s partner. This could make the situation worse and you could even be putting yourself in an unsafe position. You will also want to suggest that your friend not talk to their partner about your conversation.
Listen to your friend. Don’t be judgmental. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, they probably already feel down. Don’t make your friend feel worse.
Don’t blame your friend for what’s happening. Don’t tell your friend what they should have done differently. Concentrate on what makes them happy and how your friend can take action to change things now.
Don’t tell your friend what to do. Instead, encourage your friend to think about options. You might ask your friend if he or she has already tried getting help, or you might suggest places to seek help.
Be specific about why you’re concerned. For example, say things like, “I feel bad when he says you’re stupid” or “We hate to see you nervous and unhappy.”
Make sure your friend knows they have your support. Your friend might be feeling very isolated and alone. Let your friend know that you are there for them, and that they have already begun seeking help by talking to you. Make sure your friend knows you are willing to support them in any way that will help.
Help your friend work out some realistic strategies. What works in this situation will depend on how willing your friend is to see that there is a problem.
Your friend has to find their own way through the situation, but talking to you or a trusted person can help. If your friend does not want to talk to you about it, you might just suggest that your friend call a helpline (like one of the ones listed below), where they can get help without bringing anyone personal into the situation. Encouraging your friend to realize their strengths as an individual can be the best protection you can give, and the best way to ensure that your friend does not become a victim of abuse again.
Where to get help
Finding the courage and the appropriate way to talk about these issues with your friend is important. If you need advice or information for how to do this, there are lots of services and support available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or has been sexually assaulted. Though you should not feel personally responsible for a friend’s situation, you can always choose to help.
You can call:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline - For help and more information for either you or your friend
For hearing-impaired, call 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Lines for Life: Youthline - Support for youth in crisis or when needing help
Boys Town National Hotline - To speak with trained volunteers who can direct you to support services in your area
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, call 911.
For more information, you can check out our articles on Interpersonal Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Abusive Relationships and Sexual Violence. Kids Health may also have useful information on sexual abuse.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com