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Written and reviewed by
MD - Psychiatry, MBBS
Psychiatrist, Hyderabad  •  12 years experience
When Swapna had come to the office, she had bruises over her neck and hands. Her friend immediately realised that it was physical abuse probably by her husband. But, she kept quiet as she thought questions about the bruises can embarrass Swapna, and she will again relive the pain which would cause her more anxiety. The whole day, though Swapna was sitting near her desk she never mentioned about her bruises.

It happens with most of us, especially when we come across victims of physical abuse wherein the injuries are evident but we hesitate to question them. The reasons could be:

People think that the person can get embarrassed.
People do not know how to start the conversation.
People think that it is their personal life and so they should not intervene.
All of us should help our friends and family, at least those who are victims of physical abuse. But how to help?

Before that we need to first know whether the person is a victim of physical abuse/ domestic violence. One need not be an expert to talk to one suffering from physical abuse. These are some tips –

Ask the person privately.
Victim of abuse can feel embarrassed when things about the abuse are asked in a group of people.
Accept the fact that a victim of physical abuse would probably try to hide the abuse.
The reasons for hiding could be embarrassment, being blamed, not being believed etc.
Show concern while starting the conversation.
In the above case, Swapna’s friend could start the conversation in private by saying “I noticed these bruises on your hand Swapna. I am really concerned about you. Can I help you in any way?”
Or she could also say “I think you are stressed out today, you can talk to me now or another time about it, I will keep it confidential”
A victim will always remember that you offered help though they might not open up immediately.
The first time you offered help and if the person has not told you anything, it is okay. They will definitely remember that you offered help and whenever the stress becomes too much you might be the person they will remember and share their worries with.
Do not feel that by asking your friend might think that it is not your business or she won’t need help.
You lose very little if your friend says that it is not your business but chances are very little that she would say that.
Do not hesitate to show concern and ask for help.
Reinforce to the friend that it is not their fault and at the same time do not overtly scold or bad mouth the partner in front your friend.
Listen patiently without judging and respond supportively like supporting their decisions and trying to tell them that the feelings of anger or guilt, they are experiencing, are normal in their situations.
Believe the person and do not belittle their traumatic experience.
If the person is telling that her husband beats her up quite often, DO NOT SAY “I know your husband, he is not like that, you are mistaken”
People who abuse partners behave differently when in public and when in private, with partners.
Take them seriously if they are fearful about their safety.
At least tell them that “What you said seems definitely dangerous and I am really concerned about you”
You can discuss a safety plan with her in case of an emergency.
Try to offer help appropriately.
Help could be also giving her information regarding social services, legal help, if needed.
If your friend asks you to do something you can do, do it.
If you can’t do or don’t want to, say that to your friend and try to identify other ways where she can seek for help. Later you can see the other ways in which you can help.
For a person being abused, just the fact that someone cares enough to at least ask her about her physical abuse can make her feel wanted and will be supportive. Talking is the best form of therapy.
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