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Dax Murray

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What Not To Say To Someone You Think Is In A Domestic Violence Situation


This was originally written in collaboration with a fellow survivor who felt comfortable sharing her name a links to her website. Since that time, she has decided that it is no longer to have this information available. Her name has been removed from this article and no longer does it link to her blog.

Dear friends, family, acquaintances, and random strangers:

As survivors of domestic violence, we’ve been through a lot of hurt. Sadly, sometimes those hurtful things have come to us, albeit unwittingly, by your own hands. We know you mean well, and we know you want to see us safe, but you only see a glimpse of what we might be going through. If you REALLY want to help us, please take the following to heart:

1.) Don't tell us we should leave. We know we should. Often we do not feel it is safe to do so. Actually, don’t tell us what to do at all. Instead tell us you are there for us if we need you, in whatever way we need you. You can tell us you support whatever decision we make, and can offer a couch or a shoulder.

2.) Don't tell us you don't like our partners. We see ourselves as an extension of our partner, and therefore we interpret this attack on our partner and our relationship as an attack on us. We often cannot mentally separate ourselves as a separate being from the relationship. So, attacking the partner is the same as attacking who we are.

3.) Don't tell us you don't like the way he treats us. We interpret this as an attack on our ability to be treated well. We start thinking about what we did to deserve ill treatment. Or, that we somehow are the reason we aren’t being treated well. We don’t want others to think less of us, and try very hard to hide the abuse from friends and family until we are confident to tell them. Mentioning you don’t like this tells us you have figured it out, and we might be told by our partners to see less of you. If you are going to mention this, don’t make it about him, make it about us. Perhaps try “I’ve noticed you have seemed upset lately. Do you want to talk?”

4.) Don’t tell us you know we’re being abused. You don’t know that, and you don’t get to decide that. We get to decide how we interpret how we’re being treated. Besides, we know we’re being abused, we don’t need you to tell us that.

5.) Don’t ask us what we did to provoke the abuse. We didn’t do anything to provoke it. We exist. That is provocation enough. Asking us what we did blames us for our abuser’s actions.

6.) Don’t threaten to end our friendship if we don’t leave our abuser or go back to the relationship. Again, leaving isn’t always safe for us, and the average survivor leaves seven times before they leave an abusive relationship for good. We need you as our lifeline while we figure a safe way out of this abusive situation. Withholding friendship or communications is a tactic an abuser uses to control the person they are abusing; we don’t appreciate our friends using the same tactic on us.

7.) Don’t tell us we’re overreacting or trivialize our experience. If we’ve overcome the shame and embarrassment of the fact that we’re in an abusive relationship enough to share it with you, it means we trust you to believe us. If you belittle us, we might not be willing or able to ask for help from anyone else in the future.

8.) Don’t tells us what you would do. Each situation is unique, and humans are surprisingly bad at predicting how they would act in given situations. You don’t know all of the particulars, and cannot make assessments for us.

9.) If we do leave, don’t ask us why it “took so long” or why we “didn’t leave sooner.” Leaving can be hard. You have to make sure that if you leave, you have everything you need. It requires planning. Sometimes you don’t have the resources to leave. Sometimes they control the money, and you can’t guarantee that your basic needs will be met if you leave. Not at all shelters take children over a certain age or of a certain gender. Some shelters don’t take pets. Some shelters are full. Some shelters that aren’t full are long distances away. Some shelters aren’t able to accommodate people who have 3rd shift jobs. Some shelters are not accessible to public transit. Sometimes there actually isn’t a shelter. There are a lot of reasons why a person will stay with an abuser, and none of those reasons are any of your business, unless the person who is in an abusive relationship asks for your help in overcoming some of these obstacles. Until then, simple offer support unconditionally.

  1. Don’t give us “tips” or “tricks” for minimizing the abuse. We, and our behavior, are not the problem. The abuser is the problem. Telling us if we would just be quieter, or to not bug the abuser while they are angry aren’t going to help up.

11.) You can ask if we reported it, or are pressing charges, but accept it if we say we didn’t, or we won’t. Yes, we know, as fellow feminists, that domestic violence and domestic abuse are under reported, and abusers rarely spend a day in jail. We know this. But we also know what we can and cannot handle, and how to best take care of ourselves. In most states there is a waiting period between when you report the abuse, and when a judge actually issues a protection order. It can be as short as a day, or as long as a few weeks. This is the most dangerous time for a survivor of abuse; this is when most survivors are killed or brutally beaten. Each survivor must decide for themselves if the thin piece of paper that is a restraining order is worth the potential outburst of homicidal rage in the abuser.

In conclusion, we KNOW that you want to help us, and we appreciate it. Really we do. And we KNOW that it’s hard to see us in this situation. But trust us when we say it’s way harder for us than it is for you. When we’re ready, we’ll come to you. Until then, just be there for us, in whatever way you can, in whatever way we ask, without reservations, and without judgment.