In order for domestic violence survivors to increase their safety and live free of intimate partner abuse, it is important for them to make informed decisions and receive support. Survivors may tell a friend or relative first about their interpersonal violence.  It can be helpful for you to have ideas about how to assist a survivor.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender, education, or socioeconomic status.  Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life – therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers.

What Else Should I Know?

  1. The most dangerous time for survivors is when they leave or plan to leave their
  2. South Carolina has one of the highest rates in the U.S. of women killed by men.
  3. Survivors who are abused may abuse alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate due to physical and emotional pain.
  4. Domestic violence is a leading indicator that child abuse may be happening in the home.
  5. More than three million children witness acts of intimate partner violence every year.

What Can A Friend or Family Member Do To Help?

An advocate is someone who will listen to survivors, validate their experiences, and help them decide what they want to do. A friend or family member can be an advocate, but she/he needs to be careful not to tell the survivor what to do. The survivor is often confused, fearful, stressed and ambivalent. Having you as a supporting anchor can make a significant difference.

What Helps and What Hurts?

What Helps:

  • Hearing, “No one deserves to be abused,” “It is not your fault,” and “You did not cause the abuse.”
  • Being accepted and believed.
  • Accompanying survivors to a law enforcement office (to file reports, take photos) and to a lawyer’s office.
  • Following up and supporting them as needed on an ongoing basis.
  • Assisting in childcare.
  • Helping to identify resources and options (safety plans. domestic violence programs).

What Hurts:

  • Being asked, “Why did/do you stay?”, “Why didn’t you leave sooner?”, and “What did
    you do to cause the fight?”
  • Breaking privacy and confidentiality
  • Telling survivors what to do
  • Not being believed
  • Being judged or blamed
  • Assisting for a short time without regards to the long-term needs and psychological effects.

Why They Stay or Return

At first they stay or return because:

  • They love the partner.
  • They think the abuser will change or they can change the abuser.
  • They are embarrassed.
  • They believe the partner loves them.

Finally they stay or return because:

  • The abuser threatens to kill or take the children if they leave or do not return.
  • They believe they have no option or choice.
  • They have limited finances or resources.
  • They have low self-esteem.

Safety Planning

Help them to:

  • Have a personal safety plan.
  • Learn to be positioned where they can get away if violence erupts.
  • Practice how to get out of their home safely.
  • Have a packed bag ready at a friend’s or relative’s house in order lo leave quickly.
  • Pack a vehicle and house key, money and important papers.

Take Care of Yourself

  • You’ll be able to help more if you take care of yourself while you’re helping a friend/family member.
  • Don’t put yourself in danger!
  • Meet in a safe place.
  • Don’t get involved without giving it much thought.
  • This could be a long-term involvement.
  • Keep a hopeful and nonjudgmental attitude.
  • You may need to call a domestic violence organization for support and guidance while supporting your friend/relative.

Survivor Rights

Help establish assertive behaviors by understanding that survivors have a right:

  • To freedom from fear and abuse
  • To anger over past abuse
  • To choose to change the situation
  • To request and expect assistance from police and social service agencies
  • To want a better role model for children
  • To leave the battering environment
  • To privacy
  • To express their own thoughts and feelings
  • To develop their individual skills and abilities
  • To prosecute the abuser or not participate in judicial proceedings
  • Not not be perfect


Your success is not connected to whether or not the survivor leaves their abusive partner.

Accept that there are limitations in what you can do. You can be supportive but your friends/relatives must make their own decisions.

Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.

Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.

Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.

Economic Abuse: Is defined as making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.

Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include  – but are not limited to – causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.


Abuse Defined (The National Domestic Violence Hotline RSS2)

Domestic Violence (

Welcome to the National Center for Victims of Crime (Welcome to the National Center for Victims of Crime)