It’s often difficult to resist the temptation to “rescue” the victim and criticize the abuser. Remember that there are very complicated dynamics involved in an abusive relationship and changing the way someone thinks about themselves and their relationship is sometimes slow and frustrating. Here are some tips to support a teen who may be in an abusive relationship

To support a victim…

  • Listen without criticizing.
  • Show concern but don’t be confrontational. Say” I’m worried that you could get hurt and I want to help” rather than “I know you are being abused and you have to break up with the jerk”.
  • Be patient. They may deny the abuse out of embarrassment or fear, but criticism will only further alienate.
  • Offer help but do not take control. Your goal is to empower the teen to make wise and safe choices.
  • Concentrate on their strengths to increase their feelings of self-worth.
  • Be honest. Discuss the limits of confidentiality up front so they know under what conditions you will involve other people, including parents, school, or police.
  • Don’t “victim-blame” by asking questions such as “What did you do to make him/her so mad?” Help them to understand that the abuser is responsible for his/her own actions.
  • Criticize only the abusive behaviour, not the abuser. The victim will feel forced to defend the person they care about and will not trust you to help. Understand that ambivalence is normal and the victim will take time to make change.
  • Continue your support even if they choose to stay in the abusive relationship. When they are ready to think about leaving, they will be more likely to seek your help.
  • Continue to support even if the victim returns to an abusive relationship. Maybe they just need more time to develop stronger boundaries and courage.
  • Ask how they feel, don’t tell them how they feel or should feel.
  • Be aware of your own “baggage”. Don’t bring your issues to the victim’s relationship.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences and realize that not everyone will share your values.
  • Provide information about relationship abuse. Give them numbers and names of community resources that can help them.
  • Encourage them to share their situation with family or caregivers. Secrecy nourishes abuse.

To support an abuser…

  • Identify the abuse when you see it but remember to criticize the behaviour, not the person, or you will only succeed in making him/her defensive.
  • Educate the abuser about the different types of abuse.
  • Help them to realize the consequences of the abusive behaviour.
  • Take time to acknowledge the abuser’s strengths. Put-downs only reinforce the insecurity that is often at the root of the abuse.
  • Be clear that violence is always a choice.
  • Acknowledge that it takes courage to talk about abuse and seek help to end abuse.
  • Offer your support if s/he chooses to seek help.
  • Help them recognize that anger is an acceptable emotion but hurting someone is not.
  • Help the abuser to accept responsibility for the abuse. Violence does not happen because one is “provoked” or “drunk“. Violence is used to gain power over another.
  • Be aware of minimizing, denial and shifting blame.
  • Never tell an abuser anything his/her partner has told you.
  • Don’t give up. Behaviour changes take a long time.