Dating violence: How to help a friend

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Is your friend experiencing dating violence? Here are some things you can say and do to offer them support.

Knowing a friend is dealing with physical, emotional or sexual abuse in a relationship can be hard to deal with. You may feel sad, angry or worried about your friend’s safety and well-being. Although you’re not responsible for “saving” your friend — or making the abuse stop — there are things you can do to support them.

Here are some ways you can help a friend who’s experiencing dating violence:

  • Reach out: you can ask your friend if they’re OK or need support. Talk to them about what you’ve observed (and how it’s not part of a healthy relationship) and let them know you’re worried. You can say, “I noticed your partner has asked you to stay home a lot this month. Is everything OK?” or, “I saw your partner checking your phone a lot. Are you OK with that?” Your friend may or may not be ready to talk about it, so it’s important to let them do things in their own time.
  • Be there: if your friend is ready to talk, listen to their story without judgment. Let them know that no matter what, it’s not their fault and they’re never alone. Avoid saying things like, “Just leave!” The decision to leave a violent relationship can be difficult — only your friend can make that choice. It’s important to respect their wishes and remind them that you’re there for them. Having a trusted, caring person like you to talk to can help them figure things out.
  • Remain neutral: it’s important to say and do what’s best for your friend. While it’s OK to reference the abusive behaviour, try not to say negative things about your friend’s partner. Your friend may still care about their partner, even if they’re being mistreated. Together, you can make a list of the pros and cons of the relationship.
  • Do research: do a search for services in your community that may be able to help your friend (e.g. shelters, support groups, etc.). Resources Around Me can be a good place to start looking for violence, abuse and legal support services. Share these tools with your friend so they can consider all of their options.
  • Get support: encourage your friend to speak with a safe adult (e.g. a parent/caregiver, teacher, counsellor, social worker, etc.) about what they’re going through. You can offer to go with your friend if they’d like. Remember, it’s up to your friend to decide when they’re ready to share their story, report it and get help. If your friend isn’t ready to talk and you’re concerned about their safety, you can chat with a safe adult about next steps, too.
  • Stay safe: helping your friend create a safety plan is an important part of getting support. They need to know who they can talk to, where they can go and what they can do to protect themselves. Remember, your friend is most at risk when they leave or plan to leave the relationship. It’s important for them to be prepared. If you and/or your friend need help making a safety plan, you can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
  • Check in: being isolated from friends and family is common with dating violence. Try to keep in touch with your friend from time to time to see how they’re doing. Your friend may not always want to talk, but checking in shows them that you care and are there for them.
  • Take time: helping a friend who’s experiencing dating violence can be hard. Remember to take a step back and be kind to yourself, too. Kids Help Phone’s Worry Rockets, Tension Release Exercise and Breathing Balloon can help you manage your thoughts. Talking about your feelings with a friend, sibling, therapist or someone else you trust can also help you process. You and/or your friend can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.

If your friend is experiencing dating violence, it’s important to remind them they’re never alone. You can support your friend by reaching out, listening without judgment and helping them make a safety plan.