Insights from the Hotline Room: Eight Steps to Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence

Each year, Domestic Violence Awareness month helps raise awareness for crimes committed within domestic partnerships and intimate relationships. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV), includes a wide range of violent, abusive, and manipulative behaviors meant to control another person.

Sexual assault is also a form of domestic violence, known as intimate partner sexual violence. Sexual assault in an intimate partnership is often an escalated act, following other forms of violence or abuse, such as emotional manipulation, physical abuse, or financial abuse and control.

When someone you care about discloses a situation of intimate partner violence, it can be challenging to know how to support that person. While you may wish to protect or shelter them, it’s important to keep in mind that being supportive is not the same as offering advice.

RAINN’s hotline staff shared the following tips for responding to a someone who discloses intimate partner violence in a supportive way.

  1. Believe them. It can be tempting to jump in or offer advice, but it’s more important to hear the person out, and believe their story. Let them set the pace of the conversation and share only what they feel comfortable sharing.
  2. Remind them: you’re not alone. Thank the survivor for trusting you with this information, and remind them you are here to support them and that you care about their safety.
  3. Ask about their immediate safety. While it’s understandable to think you need to know the details to help this person, it’s more helpful to ask questions that pertain to the survivor’s safety: “Do you feel safe at home right now?” “What do you need to feel safe?”
  4. Ask about their plans. Remember, this person is the expert when it comes to their relationship. They will know when it is safe to leave and what actions are possible. Many people in a violent or unhealthy relationship do not want to leave their partner—they just want the violence to stop. Meet the survivor where they are by asking about their goals and plans. “Are you interested in making a change?” “Do you want to stay with this person?” “What have you thought about doing?” Follow their lead and support their goals as much as you can.
  5. Respect their decision. There are many reasons why a survivor of intimate partner violence may wish to stay with an abusive partner. They may love their partner, want to keep their family together, or lack the means to leave at the current time. Abusive partners may make it difficult to leave by exercising control over finances and other important resources. Your goal is to help the person you care about feel as supported as possible—not tell them what to do.
  6. Help with safety planning. Safety planning is about brainstorming ways to stay safe, whether that means remaining in an unhealthy or violent relationship or leaving one. The path to safety will look different depending on an individual’s circumstances, such as shared children, access to financial resources, access to transportation, geographic location, or shared pets. Learn more about safety planning for different situations from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
  7. Have resources on hand. It can be intimidating to share intimate or personal details to a friend or loved one who is also familiar with the perpetrator. Consider referring the survivor to a neutral third-party, like RAINN, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or a local shelter.
  8. Check in from time to time. As time goes by, don’t be afraid to ask how things are going. If they had a plan to address some of the issues, ask if the plan is working. It’s possible that this person has changed their mind about a course of action since you last spoke. Remind them that you’re here to support them, no matter the decision.