“Why don’t they just leave” – Common thoughts you may be thinking (that don’t help) and how to actually help

Aug 11, 2020

Tips on how to start “the conversation” and providing genuine support to victims of domestic violence.

At Frichot Lawyers we have a strong team of family lawyers who work across matters dealing with aspects of large asset pools, complex family and children issues, and situations where family or domestic violence are prevalent.

Governments are increasingly investing in measures to reduce domestic violence and emotional abuse. While we still have a long road ahead, it is important that we persist in eradicating this behaviour completely.

It is also important to note that domestic violence and emotional abuse are not isolated to one gender. With the growing community of same-sex marriages, there are new and emerging cases that must be addressed. Our previous article on Family and Domestic Violence outlines many current examples such situations.

Unfortunately, in many instances family and domestic violence matters progress to a criminal case. As a lawyer that specialises in both family and criminal law, I’m able to offer valuable insight into the many diverse situations that often arise in these areas.

What usually prevents families or friends providing actual support are common misconceptions, which include the following:

I shouldn’t get involved in a private family matter. Domestic and family violence is not “just” a family problem. In some instances, it is a serious crime than can result in serious injury or death to a loved one.
If it’s really that bad, why don’t they just leave? There are many reasons why victims of domestic or family violence don’t leave an abusive relationship. This can include fear, concerns regarding the impact on the children or economic and financial hardship that leaving will cause.

Sadly, many victims of family or domestic violence also minimize or justify their abusers behaviour, to the point where abusive behaviour becomes normalised within the relationship.

If they want my help, they should just ask me; or
Why don’t they just tell someone or report it to the Police?
Victims of family or domestic violence may not want to tell others what is going on for a number of reasons. These include shame, embarrassment or fear that what they have told you will get back to their abuser. Or that reporting violence to the Police will make matters worse.
How you can actually provide support to people– tips on starting a conversation and providing genuine support

If you suspect a family member or friend is in an abusive relationship, if can be difficult to know what to say and how to start a conversation. If you are concerned about a friend or family member that is in an abusive relationship, here are some tips on how to start “the conversation.”

Start a conversation – on a positive note
  • Find time to talk one-on-one in a private setting;
  • Start by giving your friend or loved one some positive affirmations or complimentary statements. For example:
    • “You’re always so fun to be around;”
    • “You’re such a great friend / mother/ father / partner;”
    • “XYZ love and support you;”
    • “I’ve missed catching up with you / talking to you!”
Respectfully voice your concerns regarding their partner’s unhealthy behaviours and why it’s a concern
  • Do not immediately label their relationship as “abusive” to drive home the severity of the situation. (Eg – “I am concerned that you are in an abusive relationship with your partner. I have seen the bruises and I think you should just leave”). This can cause your friend or loved one to retreat, shut down, panic or become defensive.
  • Once your friend or loved one feels comfortable talking to you, begin calmly voicing your concerns.
  • Pinpoint specific unhealthy behaviours that concern you and provide your friend or loved one a safe space to talk about their partner’s behaviour and how it makes them feel. For example:
    • “I noticed the other day you and your partner were fighting / your partner said “xyz” to you. Are you ok?”
    • “I’ve noticed your partner text messages and calls you a lot / wants to know where you are and who you are with all the time. How does that make you feel?”
    • “I’ve noticed since you started your relationship, our catch ups are not quite the same and you seem a bit down. Is everything ok between you and your partner?”
  • Gently point out why certain behaviours are unhealthy and be honest about how you would feel if someone did that to you. This is so your friend or loved one acknowledges the way their partner is treating them is not appropriate. For example:

     

    • “I would not like it and would be upset if my partner said xyz to me, even if I did do something wrong;
    • “Even though he was angry, in my view I think him breaking your phone in that instance was excessive;”
    • “I still live with my parents and they don’t even call or text me that often to check where I am and who I’m with. That to me seems over the top.”
Listen – be respectful and supportive
  • Listen to your friend or loved one and let them open up about the situation on their own terms.
  • Don’t be forceful with the conversation. It may be very hard for your friend or loved one to talk about their relationship.
  • Be mindful there may be various internal or external obstacles that prevent them from “just leaving.” Also be mindful that people in an abusive relationship may not recognize themselves as victims. As such, it is likely that they do not want to be viewed as “victims.”
  • Don’t place the blame on your friend or loved one. Help them understand the behaviours they are experiencing are not normal. And it’s not their fault their partner is acting in this way.
  • If you need to, talk openly about your own experiences (or the experience of others) with relationship troubles. This may help them feel as though they are not alone. It may also help them feel like the conversation is an equal exchange between two friends – rather than an exchange between a counsellor and a patient.
  • Remind your friend or loved one that they deserve to be loved and treated with respect, they are not alone and that you want to help them.

Be patient – and stay in contact with your friends or loved ones

Once you have that first conversation with your friend or loved one, bear in mind it is unlikely they will “just end the relationship and leave.” Your friend or loved one may also deny their partner’s behaviour and shy away from you. Realistically, it may take several conversations for your friend or loved one to first of all, acknowledge they are in an abusive relationship and then seek help. Be patient and let your friend or loved one know you are there to support them. And expect more conversations to follow in the future.

Providing additional support and encouragement

Once your friend or loved one starts talking to your more about their relationship, you can then start to encourage them to:

Obtain some privacy. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult for those in an abusive relationship to safely communicate to others or call for help. Perpetrators of domestic violence may take their partner’s mobile phone or hack into their social media accounts and take control. Perpetrators of domestic and family violence may also install spyware on electronic devices to monitor the movements of their partners.
That’s why you may want to encourage your friend or loved one to: 

  • Purchase a second mobile phone, tablet or smart phone that their partner does not know about. This is so they can access it in case of an emergency;
  • Change user names and passwords for their email, online banking and social media accounts. Your friend or love one should choose passwords their partner cannot guess.
Make a safety plan or an escape plan Safety planning is a process of looking at a situation and seeing what that person needs in place, to help them and their children feel safer in a violent situation. This may include creating a “signal word” with children in the house so they can identify potential danger, or even having an emergency bag ready to go.
Click here to see the Safety Planning booklet created by Dawn House incorporated for some ideas on creating a safety plan for your friend or loved one:
https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/a4a6272a/files/uploaded/safetyplan-greyscale.pdf
Seek professional help Your friend or loved one should also seek professional support. This includes seeing their local GP, obtaining counselling or if required, relocating to a refuge should they need to.
The Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline provides support and counselling for women experiencing family and domestic violence (including referrals to women’s refuges). Phone: (08) 9223 1188 or free call 1800 007 339.
Seek legal advice What prevents victims from leaving an abusive relationship is not knowing what their legal rights and entitlements are regarding parenting, property and financial matters after separating.
Victims of family and domestic violence may also require assistance in obtaining a Family Violence Restraining Order against their partner.
If your friend or loved one requires legal assistance, help them by taking them to see a lawyer.

If you or your friend or loved one are thinking about obtaining a Family Violence Restraining Order, there are a few things you may need to know. See our other article regarding obtaining a Family Violence Restraining Order.

 

This article was written by Mila Mortimer,

Senior Associate and Specialist in both Family and Criminal Law

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