How Do I Help Someone I Don’t Know?
Is there anything you can do to help a stranger who’s is being abused… it might be someone you see being berated in shop or on the train, who clearly is feeling intimidated or your next-door neighbour… but should you walk away and ignore or can you actually make a small difference to them?
What Do I Need to Know?
Abuse is a pattern of behavior used to gain and maintain power and control in a relationship. It can take many forms and isn’t always easy to recognise. Besides physical abuse, people may experience verbal/emotional abuse, digital abuse, sexual abuse or a combination of these different abusive tactics. If you witness someone being verbally or physically abused, it’s okay to speak up.
Sometimes survivors may believe that abuse is normal, so one of the most important things you can do for someone in an abusive relationship is let them know that abuse isn’t okay and it’s not their fault. You might say things like, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that” or “You deserve to be treated with respect.”
Don’t Mind Your Own Business
Abuse is a scary and isolating experience. If you witness someone going through it and don’t know what to do, try to imagine how you’d want to be helped. Reaching out to a person can provide them with support that they may not be receiving anywhere else, letting someone know, someone out there cares enough is very important.
You do always have to recognise that they likely have mixed emotions and may suffer from feelings of guilt, self-blame, confusion or fear – a situation cannot be resolved by just you speaking up. Don’t judge or tell them how to handle the situation… they know it best. By letting someone know you care, it reminds people they are not invisible to the world and it might mean then when they are ready, that first step of seeking support is easier.
If you don’t feel comfortable calling out the abuse in front of an abusive partner, you can still disrupt the situation by eg striking up a conversation about anything – asking for directions or talking about the weather etc. That could help keep things from escalating and give the person a chance to seek help if they want it.
Try to Speak to the Person Abused Alone
If possible, finding a time to speak to the victim when their partner isn’t nearby could be safest for you, and also for them. Besides avoiding aggravating the abuser and possibly causing them to lash out at you or their partner. Abusers often isolate their partner from anyone they feel might encourage them to leave, so if the abuser sees you as a threat, they may take steps to keep their partner away from you.
For example, if this person is a neighbour, you might consider asking them if they have recently seen Neighbour X as you haven’t /if you can borrow something – anything that allows you to open up a conversation, this can provide an opportunity to check out the situation and speak with them alone… if you can, signpost them to an organisation such as Rotherham Rise that might be able to help once they are ready. Let them know professional support is out there!
If the situation is physically violent or seems like it might become so, use caution when getting involved. If you don’t feel safe to intervene, even standing nearby and making it clear that you are watching and are a witness to what is happening can help. If you’re concerned for the person’s immediate safety, stay back and call 999.