I Am Worried About Someone
I am worried about someone
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is here to support anyone experiencing domestic abuse or forced marriage and also their friends, family, colleagues, and professionals supporting them. If you’re worried about someone else, we are here for you as well.
From our callers
The call ended with me feeling incredibly informed and empowered to help my friend
If someone has trusted in you and told you about abuse that they are experiencing, this is a positive first step. Your first instinct may be to want to protect your friend or family member, but intervening can be dangerous for both you and them. There are some things you can do to help them and any children feel safer:
- Listen – listen and believe what they tell you. Too often people do not believe someone when they first talk about abuse, so this alone can be powerful.
- Be there for them – people experiencing abuse can often feel isolated and alone. Keep lines of communication open at all times and let the person know that you are always there when they need you. Show them that you understand how much they will be giving up if they do decide to leave, and recognise how hard that could be. Offer any support that you can – practical and emotional – but try not to push them too hard, and always respect their boundaries.
- Don’t judge – it can be extremely difficult for someone experiencing abuse to leave, and the decision to do so has to come from them. Try to support them to make their own choices, rather than asking them why they’re staying or telling them what to do.
- Reassure – they may be feeling ashamed or believe they are to blame for the abuse. Reassure them that it is not their fault and that they do not deserve to be treated like this. Focus on building them up, reminding them of their strength and how well they are coping with a challenging situation.
- Get support – find out about what help is available to your friend or family member. You could offer to accompany them to appointments for support, e.g. solicitor, GP, Women’s Aid, police. Make sure they have access to emergency phone numbers, and let them know they can contact us at any time. Anyone concerned about a person experiencing abuse can also contact the Helpline themselves for guidance and support.
- Plan – talk to them about what they might do in an emergency. You might be able to help them by agreeing a code-word they could use if they ever need help, or keep copies of important documents, keys or a bag of supplies at your home in case they ever need to leave in a hurry. See our safety planning page for more information.
- Report – if you ever witness an assault or believe someone is in immediate danger, you can call the police on 999. You don’t need to give your personal details if you don’t want to.
- Be patient – it can take a long time to recognise domestic abuse and even longer to decide on what to do. They may need to speak to you about it numerous times. Even if they have decided to leave the relationship, this can often take many attempts. Try to support them at their own pace and don't give up – trust and respect their decisions, even if you don’t always agree with them.
- Look after yourself too – supporting someone who is experiencing abuse can be a challenging and emotional thing to do, especially if the person is a close friend or family member. It is important to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing and keep yourself safe. Try not to push them too hard to leave, and don’t put yourself at risk by interacting with the abuser or stepping into dangerous situations. If you need to talk, you can call us at any time.
Because of the nature of domestic abuse and the shame and blame that survivors carry over their experiences, it can be difficult for survivors to end their relationship. Some research indicates that it can take an average of seven attempts at leaving an abusive partner before they are able to make that final step. There are many complex emotional and practical considerations that lead to this.
Firstly, many survivors don’t initially recognise their experience as abuse. A common trauma response that enables survivors keep functioning emotionally when experiencing domestic abuse is to take on perspectives that minimise the abuse and attribute it to external factors. The survivor has hopes, dreams and ambitions for their relationship, and the status society puts on being part of a couple – as opposed to being alone, at all costs - contributes to this.
There are many other barriers that can prevent someone leaving an abusive partner. Finances can be a big barrier; our systems are not set up to financially support someone who doesn’t already have access to money and resources to re-establish their life. Where there are accompanying children, factors like school catchment areas, access to friends and hobbies, and societal/community pressure to remain as a family unit can all impact on a survivor’s decision to stay.
In addition, the perpetrator will likely have made threats of what will happen if the survivor leaves – this may involve removal of children; reporting to authorities for alcohol or drug use; threats to pets; threats to harm themselves; or insecure immigration status, amongst others.
Most importantly, it can be extremely dangerous for people to leave - there is a high likelihood of escalation of risk on leaving, with post separation assault, stalking and harassment extremely common upon ending the relationship. The majority of women murdered by their partners and ex-partners (at least 3 a week in the UK) are murdered within the first 6 months of leaving the relationship.
Whilst leaving the relationship seems like the easy option, the facts are that leaving presents a range of logistical and emotional losses, with gains that are aspirational and some won’t come until much later – and with much effort from the survivor. Staying is often easier and safer, because we don’t have systems set up to adequately support survivors – emotionally, practically or financially.
This is why it is so important that you do not pressure the person to leave and that you continue to support them to make the decisions that are right for them.
Where someone remains in a relationship with an abuser, support is available and there may be steps they can take to do so more safely.
It is important to approach this type of conversation sensitively, so as not to seem confrontational or judgemental. People who are experiencing domestic abuse are often under a lot of pressure at home, and may not be ready for direct questioning. Try not to ask things like “Are you experiencing abuse?” or “Why are you staying with them?”. These questions may be too overwhelming. One approach that can be helpful is to talk about abuse in general terms, e.g. “Have you read this article/seen this soap opera storyline/listened to this podcast about domestic abuse?”. Opening up a general conversation can be a gentler way to approach someone, which allows them to reflect and open up as much (or as little) as they choose.
It is important to remember that everyone is different and has different communication styles – try to take the lead from the person who is experiencing the abuse, mirror their language and tone, and judge how much they’re comfortable discussing. If they become defensive or shut down, it is best to back off and rethink the way you approach the conversation.
It is important not to push them too hard or to force them into taking action if they are not ready. Try to focus on asking what YOU can do for THEM, what they would like to do next, and asking for their consent about any planned action. Do not press them for details about the abuse, or ask them to disclose more information than they feel comfortable with. Good questions to ask might be:
- “Do you feel happy at the moment?”
- “Do you feel safe?”
- ‘’Do you ever feel scared of your partner?’
- “What would you like to happen next?”
- “Would you like me to help you with anything?”
The most important thing is to remain open and non-judgemental, and to be led by their needs and wishes – everyone is different. It’s human nature to want to fix things, but simply holding space for the person to talk and be heard without your input is important. Often, simply being present as a non-judgmental listener can be much more powerful than the actual words we use.
There are many potential signs that someone is being abused, the most obvious being physical signs such as cuts, bruises and broken bones. Other indicators can include depression or anxiety, weight loss or gain, self-harm, substance misuse, exhaustion and lack of interest in self-care. You may notice a significant change in their behaviours and habits, e.g. checking their phone more frequently; withdrawing from social contact; loss of self-confidence; changes to what they wear, eat/ or do. However, everyone is different, and some people may present differently or may hide the abuse, showing no obvious signs.
If you suspect that someone is at risk of forced marriage, it can be hard to know what to do.
Remember that if they are under 16 or are a vulnerable adult, and you think that they are experiencing or at risk of forced marriage, you should contact their local social work department. If anyone is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.
Below are some practical things that you may be able to do, in order to support someone at risk of forced marriage.
- Check that it is safe to talk and speak to them privately. Remember that their communications and activities may be monitored. Ask them about safe ways or times to get in touch and arrange how you will follow up with them.
- It can be helpful to set a code word and agree what you will do: For example, ‘If I say this word, it means I can’t talk freely right now’, ‘If I send you this word, call the police’ or, ‘If you do not hear from me within X time, call…, and send these documents to them.’
- Be as non-directive as possible and respect their wishes. Try to talk to the person about what is happening for them, ask them what they would like to happen, and whether there are ways that you can help with this.
- Remember to be non-judgemental. People experiencing forced marriage can be under enormous pressure from family and community members and may fear serious consequences if they do not do what is expected of them. They may remain with or return to families and communities or decide not to follow through on plans. You should make it clear that you will continue to be there for them.
- Keep what they tell you private. Do not share information with anyone else without their express permission, unless you absolutely have to, such as to phone the police if they are in immediate danger or to report a child protection concern to social work. If there are any limits to you being able to keep what they tell you confidential, you should make this clear.
- Reassure them. They may have been made to feel guilty or ashamed and believe that they are responsible for what is happening. It can be helpful to remind the person that this is not their fault and that no-one deserves to be forced to marry.
- Give them information. For example, you can let them know that forced marriage is illegal and that they have a right to decide whether or not they want to get married. Give them contact numbers for where to get help, such as our helpline, the Forced Marriage Unit, or Women’s Aid. See ‘Who else can help?’ for information about further support.
- Check if there are ways you can facilitate them getting support. For example, could they use your phone or computer to look up information and contact services? You can also offer to contact services on their behalf to gather information or to accompany them to attend appointments, if they would find that helpful.
- Never attempt to mediate with their family or to contact anyone from their family or community. This could put them at greater risk.
If they think that they will have to go abroad, you could offer to keep copies of important documents for them (for example their passport, any travel itineraries, information about people involved, the address of where they will be staying, etc.) and find out when they are due to return.
It can be difficult to know how to support someone who is at risk of forced marriage, and you may feel like you are not doing enough. Remember that being there to listen to them, keeping the lines of communication open, and providing information about their options, can be a very valuable way to help someone.
If you are worried about someone you know, and would like to talk about this, you can contact us at any time.
From our callers
I started the call completely clueless as to how to help my friend and gained so much information I had no idea existed. I am deeply impressed and thankful for this