When someone discloses they are in an abusive relationship it is tempting to tell them to leave, on the surface it makes sense. They are being abused they have come to you for help, their life maybe in danger why wouldn’t they simply leave. I realize in a world without domestic violence this would seem to be the most logical course of action.There are many reasons why somebody doesn’t leave not least of which leaving is without doubt the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence is about Power and Control
There is a misconception that an abusive relationship without physical or sexual abuse will mean physical abuse will not happen when someone leaves the relationship. Domestic violence is about power and control and the loss of this power and control when someone leaves will mean an escalation of the abuse. So an abusive relationship previously without physical abuse can quickly become dangerous, physically.
Safety is paramount
In fact the false sense of security that comes with the lack of physical violence can be detrimental to the safety of the person leaving. The precautions needed are often absent. The police see a lack of physical violence in an otherwise abusive relationship a zero percent indicator there will not be a homicide after the victim leaves. This must be taken into account when talking to someone disclosing domestic violence.
A safety plan is essential
It is important to let them talk and gather as much information as you can, but at the same time it is important to advise them of the threat to there physical safety. It is not only the victim in danger, but family members, pets and children. A safety and exit plan is needed, of course if now is a safe time to leave then now is the right time. It is not always now. I know I had to wait four days until my partner was interstate on business before I left for the safety of a refuge.There is a shortage of places in refuges and they may not have an alternative place to go. Staying with family often is not an option as it is too easy for the abuser to find them. This puts both the victim and their family in danger.
The abused will have been normalized
This is a time to help them understand the gravity of their situation. They will have normalized the abuse as it escalated, and may not be aware of how destructive and serious their situation is. Be gentle and don’t be judgmental or demanding of a certain course of action, however much it seems to makes sense to you and their safety; they already have the abuser making demands on them. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and build trust. So they can work out a plan and feel supported when they leave.
It is not your job to rescue them
You cannot rescue them but you can inform and support them. Trust them when they say it is not safe to leave at the moment but keep the lines of communication open. They have spent the entirety of they relationship confused and scared so it is important they have someone with whom they have an open line of communication. It is equally important you know your boundaries as you lead them through the stormy waters of understanding and taking action for both their sake and yours. The stories they tell may be difficult to hear; so it is important you yourself are supported as you support them.
If you need further support call 1800 RESPECT