How You Can Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship
Originally Published: August 7, 2017
Revised: January 3, 2019
Did you know that every year in the U.S., almost 1.5 million high school students will experience physical abuse from a dating partner? Sounds like way too many, right? And that doesn’t even include how many teens experience other kinds of abuse from intimate partners, like emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. However, only 33 percent of teens ever tell anyone about the abuse. Why might this be?
Well, abuse victims are often faced with loads of stigma and shame. It is common for victims of dating violence to be told they’re just making it up and to be held at least partially responsible for the abuse itself (otherwise known as victim blaming). This makes it harder for dating violence survivors to come forward and get help, as no one wants to deal with negative backlash. In addition, many teens are in love with their abusive partners and do not want to leave the relationship. (Read a dating violence survivor’s story.)
Bystanders are very important to ending dating violence. This means being willing to take action directly or indirectly when we see or hear something that isn’t right.
Finally, teens and parents alike often don’t know the signs that abuse is happening and are under-educated about teen dating violence in general. This is why we’ve enlisted the help of Laura Luciano, Interim Director of the Rutgers University Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance. She is passionate about abuse and sexual assault prevention and provides counseling, education and crisis intervention to tons of young people. We asked her a few questions to get more information about abuse and what we can do to stop it:
Sex, Etc.: What is abuse? And what are the different types of abuse?
Laura Luciano: People may define abuse in a variety of ways, but typically, abuse can be explained as any form of cruel or violent treatment. This can range from manipulating a person (tricking them into doing something they don’t want to do), keeping them from communicating with others (often called isolation), using intimidation to threaten them, name-calling or putting them down in some way to using any type of physical force (e.g., hitting, slapping, pushing, punching, kicking, biting) or forcing or coercing (trying to convince or pressure) them to do something sexually that they don’t want to do. We also see abuse occurring through the use of social media or technology, such as harassing a person through texts or social media posts, following or tracking them through those means or forcing them to give passwords or delete followers or friends from sites.
Sex, Etc.: What should you do if a loved one tells you they’re being abused?
Laura Luciano: If a loved one discloses to you, there are a few things you can do to be supportive and helpful:
- Believe what they tell you.
- Be supportive and non-judgmental. (Don’t try to find fault, assign blame or judge their decisions.)
- Talk with them about what they want or need.
- Offer assistance in locating resources. (Call a hotline or look online for information from a reputable site.)
- If they want to seek help, you can offer to go with them. Do not pressure or force them to do something they don’t want to do.
- Finally, this can be overwhelming, so take good care of yourself and talk to someone if you need to. You can do that without breaking the confidentiality of your loved one.
Sex, Etc.: Are there any specific populations that are more vulnerable to abuse?
Laura Luciano: Women between the ages of 18 to 24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner. Also generally, individuals with developmental and physical disabilities are at high risk for sexual abuse, as are members of the LGBTQ population. However, rates of dating violence are consistent regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.
Sex, Etc.: What actions can we take on a daily basis to stop abuse and help survivors?
Laura Luciano: Bystanders are very important to ending dating violence. This means being willing to take action directly or indirectly when we see or hear something that isn’t right. I encourage people to use their “gut” and, if it feels wrong, to take action. This could be challenging a friend’s use of inappropriate language, asking a friend if they need help or are OK after you see their romantic partner yell at them or talking to a friend that is treating their loved one in an abusive way. We can ask others for help if we don’t know what to do.
Sex, Etc.: What resources are available to young people who are victims/survivors of abuse?
Laura Luciano: LoveIsRespect.org or BreaktheCycle.org. You can also search online for a local domestic violence service provider by visiting the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.
Abuse from a dating partner is a very difficult thing to experience, and it’s something that no one deserves for any reason. Hopefully you now know a little bit more about teen dating violence and how you can improve the lives of abuse survivors. And if you are being abused, know that you certainly aren’t alone. To get help for yourself or someone you care about, text loveis to 22522 or call 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 (TTY). You can also chat with an advocate in English or Spanish at LoveIsRespect.org.
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