Supporting Victims

How Do I Talk to The Victim?

Let victims know you believe them and support them.

You are not expected to be an expert in domestic violence. You should not feel like you have to know all the “right answers” or give the best advice. But you do play a life-saving role: the role of letting a victim know someone cares about them and of linking them to organizations like Hubbard House.

Preparing to Talk

When you’re getting ready to talk to someone you believe is experiencing domestic violence, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • The conversation should be in-person, away from the suspected abuser: If the abuser believes their partner is thinking about getting help or leaving, they may escalate their violence. You never know if the abuser could be monitoring their partner’s phone calls, text messages, or emails, so talking to the victim in person is the safest option.
  • The conversation should be one-on-one: It’s possible someone the victim trusts is actually connected to the abuser as well, so anything you talk about could get back to the abuser. That could be dangerous for the victim. The victim may also not be willing to talk openly to you if there are other people — even friends — around.
  • Be sensitive of time limits: If the victim is worried about getting home at a certain time because the abuser is expecting them, they may not be able to focus on the conversation with you. It’s best to talk to the victim when there are no distractions, including time.
  • Expect the unexpected: You can’t predict how the victim will react when you speak with them. They may deny the abuse. They may start telling you everything. There is no way you can prepare for every possible response, but spend time thinking about what you would say, depending on how the victim reacts to the conversation.

Speaking with the Victim

In the conversation itself, it’s important to show that you are sincere and caring. It’s difficult for you to talk about this and may be difficult for the victim to hear what you have to say.

  • Use validating, supportive language: The abuser tells the victim nobody will believe them, and they deserve the abuse. Because of this, the victim may think nobody will believe them. In your conversation, don’t question the victim. Validate their experiences. Tell them you believe them.. Say that you care about the victim and their safety. Let the victim know the abuse is not their fault and that nobody deserves abuse.
  • Focus on specific concerns: Let the victim know the specific things you’re concerned about. If you only speak generally about safety, it may not feel real for the victim. For example, instead of saying “I think he’s hitting you,” consider “I saw the bruises on your wrists a few weeks ago, and the bruises on your neck this week. I’m worried about your safety and that your boyfriend may be hurting you.”
  • Talk about what you see/hear and limit speculation: The conversation is happening because you suspect abuse, but it’s important to explain why you suspect abuse. If you guess about what’s happening or make accusations or broad statements, the victim may get defensive and not feel comfortable speaking openly with you. Instead, limit yourself to what you have seen or heard and why that makes you worried for the victim.
  • Support the victim, but don’t try to force them to act: The victim knows what’s best and safest for them, so don’t assume that you know the best course of action. You may think the victim needs to leave the relationship right away, but there may be reasons the victim doesn’t think that’s safe. Let the victim lead in how they want to move forward.
  • Offer to help connect the victim with trained support: If the victim is ready to call a domestic violence shelter and outreach center like Hubbard House, you can help them do that safely. Their abuser may be monitoring their phone, so can you let the victim make that call from your phone instead? Can you give that person an excuse to get out of the house to make the call, by making plans with them?

Putting It All Together

There’s no set formula for the best way to speak to a victim and offer help. Here are some example conversation starters that may be helpful:

I’ve noticed that you get very anxious whenever he calls or texts, and you tell me you need to respond right away. I want you to know that makes me worried that he’s being too controlling of you. If you feel like something bad will happen if you don’t respond right away, then this may not be a healthy relationship. If you’re scared of him, or if he’s hurting you, please know that I am here to support you. I care about you. I can help you find safety, if you ever need me.

Over the last few months, it feels to me like you’ve been canceling plans more than usual. I used to see you every week or so, but I haven’t really been able to connect with you since you started dating your boyfriend. In fact, a couple of times when you canceled plans, you said it’s because he made last-minute plans with you, and you didn’t think you could say no. I’m concerned that he may be isolating you from people you care about, as a way to control you. That control can get dangerous. I can help connect you to support, if you would like. Even if you’re not ready today, I’m here when you need me.

Recently, you’ve been having trouble with your phone and your service getting disconnected. You told me before that your girlfriend insists on handling your phone bill. I wanted to check in with you because if she’s intentionally messing with your phone service, that could be a sign that she’s manipulating you. I know money can sometimes get tight, but if she is paying for fun things and not paying your phone bill, then it doesn’t sound to me like money is the issue. She may use it as an excuse, just to keep control. If you want to talk to someone about this, there is trained help available, and you can use my phone to make that call.

I’m sorry you weren’t able to sign-on for your presentation at the virtual meeting. I know you prepared a really long time for that presentation, and you were really passionate about doing a good job. You told me your boyfriend was joking around and accidentally broke your computer, so you couldn’t sign in. This isn’t the first time you have told me that he did something that caused you to have problems at work, though. If he is trying to sabotage your success at work, it is a warning sign to me that he may be trying to control you and your money. Economic abuse can be really scary, but if you want to talk to someone about it, I know where you can call.

When I picked your son up from soccer practice last week, we got a bite to eat on the way home. At the restaurant, he started talking about seeing his dad hitting you and you crying. He said you talked to him about safe places to hide in his room. I know you are keeping your son safe, but I’m worried about your safety. If you feel unsafe and want to get help, there is support available. I can help connect you to those resources.

I hear him calling you his “little porker” a lot. I know he says it is his fun pet name for you, but I saw your body language and personality instantly change. It looked to me like you don’t like when he calls you that. And there have been other times you told me he dismisses what you say, makes fun of you, or makes you feel bad about yourself. If he’s not taking your feelings seriously, it makes me worry you may not feel safe and valued in your relationship. If you feel uncomfortable with him, or even unsafe, those feelings matter. I can help you reach out to an organization that understands your experience and can help you.

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Continue to Support

After you talk to the victim, it’s possible nothing changes. The victim may deny there is abuse, make excuses for their partner, or otherwise not want to seek help. There are many reasons for this, including that it just may not be safe for them to get help at that moment.

You have still made an important difference in that person’s life: they know there is at least one person they can turn to if and when they are ready to get help in the future.

Hubbard House is available to help victims any time, day or night. Free, confidential support is available through the 24/7 Hotline at (904) 354-3114 and 24/7 Textline at (904) 210-3698.