Exit counselling

How to help your friend leave


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It’s a dilemma no one wants to land in. You suspect your friend’s relationship is going badly – violently bad, that is – but just aren’t sure. You don’t want to be intrusive but you don’t want to leave the person unprotected either. Where to start?

First, check your radar against the facts. Does your friend suddenly seem withdrawn or anxious? Other signals of abuse are depression, fatigue, under-eating or overeating, insomnia, injuries and sudden changes in clothing style intended to hide bruises.

You might be close to the potential batterer, who may appear friendly and sociable. But jealous, demeaning or overly possessive behaviour in a partner is a possible clue that things aren’t right.

If you’re concerned, call a therapist or 24-hour distress line (416-408-4357) and talk through your situation. Ask them or the folks at 211 for a list of resources: crisis lines, shelters, referrals to psychologists and anger management programs. Before approaching your friend, think safety. If you’re going to confront a perpetrator, make sure it’s in a public place or through a phone call or letter, and do it with a friend present. With a victim, make certain both of you will be out of earshot of the abuser.

Open by indicating that you’re worried about your friend. As the conversation unfolds, ask about the relationship. Stay non-judgmental. If your suspicions prove correct, make sure your friend knows when to call 911 and where the 24-hour shelters are, and reassure him/her that services are available if financial dependence is an issue.

Even if your friend admits the relationship is violent, you may have to face the reality that he/she isn’t prepared to do anything about it. Focus on letting your friend know that you will be available if help is desired. But remember, you must call police if you believe children are living in a household where violence is occurring.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

“(You may notice) damage to walls or furniture. Often the victim appears anxious and hyper-alert. Children may be hyperactive, aggressive or very withdrawn. Ask about the person’s relationship and how they handle disagreements – that gives clues. Ask, ‘Are you ever afraid of your partner?’ and ‘Have they ever hurt or threatened you?’ Saying, “You’re stupid to stay’ isn’t helpful. Reassure the person that it’s not their fault and there’s lots of help available.”

CATHERINE KHAN , Toronto Public Health visiting nurse, Toronto women’s shelter system

Listen to what (a friend) has to tell you. Don’t minimize it, don’t brush it off. We always let the individual know that violence and abuse are not acceptable and encourage them to get help. We help them look at whether the relationship is based on love and trust and respect. (If someone experiencing violence opts to stay), we encourage them to create a safety plan. If the violence escalates again, how can they quickly leave the house? For example, they should have all their important documents and money in one place so they can grab them and go. Have clothes ready to grab in a safe, secure, (secret) place. Plan how to remove children or pets and the best place to go.”

HOWARD SHULMAN , social worker, coordinator of the 519 Anti-Violence Program

“Accident injuries are on one side of the body and tend to be one type. Abuse injuries tend to be on both sides, front and back, multiple types (cuts, scrapes, bruises) and on inside surfaces of arms or legs versus the outside for an accident. The injuries will be at different stages of healing. Abusers may display jealousy, may drive too fast or do other things just to scare their partner. They overreact and blame other people. Then there’s the guy who’s too good to be true. Asking someone to marry you in two months is controlling. If you’re concerned (that someone is a victim), ask directly. Do it in a private space. If they give excuses, name them as excuses . Have numbers for them. There are programs for violent men. Prepare for the talk by calling a crisis line.”

DEIDRE BAINBRIDGE , clinical manager, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, Toronto

“If there’s any evidence that this person may be in danger of physical harm, err in the direction of protecting someone by calling 911. Suggest the person seek out therapy with a psychologist, social worker or family physician. As a layperson, avoid giving advice (beyond basic safety issues). (If a perpetrator discloses to you), first give him credit for admitting he has a problem then suggest psychological help. The other suggestion to the perpetrator that anyone can make is, “When you feel you’re getting really angry, leave the scene.’

RICKEY MILLER , psychologist, Miller-Mistry Psychologists, Thornhill

“(Some women in ethnic minorities) may believe that wife-beating is part of their culture and therefore they don’t have a right to do anything about it. You say, ‘Yes, you do have a right.’ Every single member of the United Nations has ratified the UN convention that says women have a right not to be beaten by their partners, and no appeal to culture negates that right. (Violence against men) is a serious problem, and men need more help than women because our feminist-influenced culture resists recognizing that men are often victims.’

KATHLEEN MALLEY-MORRISON , professor, psychology department, Boston University, editor, International Perspectives On Family Violence And Abuse

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