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Is your friend suffering in their relationship?

Are you concerned for a friend, family member, or someone else close to you? Reacting to violence is important and there is a lot you can do to offer support. Afterwards, many people say how important it was for them when someone, for example a friend, neighbour, relative, or classmate, dared to ask and dared to listen. Here we have some tips on what you can do when you are worried that a friend is being victimised or if you know someone who is abusing their partner.

There are different kinds of violence, such as:

Physical violence can be restraining someone, pushing, hitting, kicking, or choking. Physical violence often comes to mind when talking about violence.

Psychological violence can be offensive or mean comments, threats, or constantly demanding to know where someone is and with whom. It may also mean threatening to hurt someone by being controlling, accusatory, or aggressive.

Sexual violence is doing something sexual against someone’s will, for example touching their body in a way they do not want to be touched or badger someone into having sex. Sex must always be voluntary. If not, it is assault and a crime. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are examples of sexual violence.

Digital violence can be constantly texting or calling to keep track of where a partner is and who the partner is spending time with, setting limits on who the partner can be friends with on social media or otherwise using the internet to abuse or threaten.

Warning signs: Is your friend a victim of violence?

Your friend:

  • can rarely go out and do things without their partner.
  • must constantly respond to messages and calls from their partner.
  • gives up their own hobbies and leisure activities.
  • has a visible injury.
  • withdraws.
  • is often picked up and dropped off by their partner when you get together.
  • appears stressed and sad because of their relationship and partner.
  • does not get to decide how to dress, look, or move.

I think my friend is being abused, what shall I do?

It is important to react. The most important thing is not what you say, but to show that you are there for them. You can for example:

  • describe why you are worried. 
  • tell them you are there for them if and when your friend wants to talk/tell someone. 
  • ask how your friend is doing in their relationship. It is often easier to tell someone when asked point blank. 
  • listen (try not to question, push, judge, or blame). 
  • emphasise that the partner’s actions are not okay.
  • tell your friend that it is important for them to think about their own safety and that they have a right to be happy.  
  • offer to support your friend in talking to someone, such as parents, a teacher, the police, or another adult. 
  • help investigate where your friend can turn for support and help
  • note time and place for all violence you see or hear, for example if you notice your friend being harassed and stalked, or if you hear threats or see physical violence. This information may be used for a police report. You can also help storing such information in a safe place.
  • let your friend know that you are there for them, that you believe your friend, and that you will continue to be there for them even if it takes time before your friend wants or dares to tell you about their situation. 
  • If you believe your friend is in immediate danger – call 112. This may be that someone is currently abusing your friend, that your friend is injured and in need of hospital care, or if you believe they are at risk of being taken to another country against their will.

Common reactions

Be prepared that your friend might not appear relieved and happy at first that you are trying to help, but instead becomes annoyed and maybe even defends their partner or pull away from you. These are common reactions. Do not give up. Try raising the topic again at a later time.

Show that you are there for them now and when your friend is ready to get out of their relationship, if that time comes. It is often best if the victim has the strength or is able to tell others about the abuse, but if you believe that your friend is in immediate danger, you must always tell an adult or call 112. It may be difficult and tough to see someone you know suffer. If you yourself need to talk about what happened, there is support available.

Support and help

My friend does not treat their partner right, what shall I do?

Do you think someone close to you is treating the person they are with poorly? Are you worried that someone is exposing their partner to violence or abuse? Regardless of whether it is your best friend or an acquaintance, it is good and important for you to react.

For the victim, it is often very difficult when your friends or others around you do not react to the violence. Both the victim and the victimiser may feel that people around them do not have the strength, want to, or dare to act. As if others accept the violence. You matter and your actions may make a huge difference! Trust your gut feeling and enlist the help of someone you trust if it is difficult to deal with the situation yourself. You can for example:

  • describe why you are worried.
  • tell that person what you have experienced, heard, or seen.
  • emphasise that what they are doing is not okay.
  • ask how your friend is doing in their relationship.
  • listen (try not to diminish, excuse, or explain away the violence).
  • tell them you are there for them if and when your friend wants to talk/tell someone – do not give up.
  • offer to support your friend in talking to someone, for example an adult you both trust.
  • advise them that support and help is available. (link)
  • In case of an emergency (for example if you think your friend is abusing someone right now, is about to hurt themselves or others) – call 112.

It may feel difficult and scary to initiate the conversation. If it is difficult to talk to the person alone or if the conversation does not go anywhere, try enlisting someone’s help.