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How to Be an Active Bystander Against Domestic/Dating Violence

Three Parts:Understanding the TerminologyLooking out for Warning SignsBeing a Support SystemCommunity Q&A

Ending Interpersonal Violence, an umbrella term for sexual assault, stalking and domestic/dating violence, comes down to the actions of bystanders. Victims and survivors of domestic/dating violence are in critical need of a solid support system in order for them to heal and stay safe. It is essential to keep in mind that leaving an abusive relationship is not always the best solution; there are a plethora of reasons why someone would stay in the relationship. The most important thing is to be supportive of the person experiencing the abuse regardless of their decision, because they know the situation best. There are many warning signs to recognize before the abuse escalates to look out for in order to prevent the violence from occurring. Whether they want to leave or stay in the relationship, there are ways to help someone who has been affected by domestic or dating violence.

Part 1
Understanding the Terminology

  1. 1
    Know what domestic violence is: a pattern of abusive and coercive behavior, in which a person establishes or maintains power and control over their partner.
  2. 2
    Understand dating violence: since domestic violence is often portrayed and stigmatized as physical abuse occurring within a marriage, a home or a family, it is important to explain that abuse occurs on a much broader scale than that. Dating violence is violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim/survivor.
  3. 3
    Note the use of both victim and survivor. Meeting people where they are at is important in giving them back the power and control they've lost. Some people do not like the term victim because they do not identify themselves as such whereas other people do not like the term survivor because they are still in a healing process. Similarly, someone in the midst of an abusive relationship may not consider what they are experiencing abuse, and you should never force terminology on them. Use the language that they are comfortable with and prefer using.

Part 2
Looking out for Warning Signs

  1. 1
    Consider whether they're isolated. One of the first and most prominent warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship is isolation. This can look like pressuring a victim/survivor to stay away from friends or family. It may also look like pressuring them to quit their job, drop out of school or withdraw from any hobbies they used to partake in. Isolation cuts off the victim/survivor from any support system they have, making it even more difficult to leave the relationship.
  2. 2
    Look for signs of limited independence. Much like isolation, limiting independence is one of the first tactics an abuser may use to hold power and control over their victim. This may come in the form of controlling what clothes they wear, what makeup they can use or even what food they eat. It may also look like pressuring them to consume cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs. Overall it is about controlling any and all decisions whether financial, social or otherwise.
  3. 3
    Beware of privacy violations. This can also been seen in the early stages of an abusive relationship. An abuser may intercept phone calls, text messages, notifications on social media and any other form of communication. They may also be violating when it comes to personal space and forcing intimacy with the victim. Other forms of interpersonal violence can be found within a domestic/dating violence relationship as well. Sexual assault and stalking are also ways of violating a victim's privacy and can further enforce power and control over them.
  4. 4
    Look out for humiliation. This is much more serious than playful teasing and can occur both in public or behind closed doors. An abuser may make fun of a victim for their ethnicity, religion, gender identity, mock the way they speak, joke about their family or even make light of the abuse. This is a common factor in emotional and psychological abuse that aids in making the victim feel helpless and at fault.
  5. 5
    Beware of signs of harassment. Again this is where stalking can come into play. The abuser may show up to the victim's house, place of work, friend's house or classes. They may harass the victim's family, friends or employer so that those relationships become strained, isolating them even more. Harassment is not always physical, it can be constantly texting, calling or contacting them via social media and spreading vicious rumors.
  6. 6
    Listen for sexist stereotypes. An abuser may use sexist stereotypes to support their abuse or reinforce why they shouldn't or cannot report. Saying things like "you're a man, real men can't be abused," or "you're a woman, you have to listen to me," are both ways of maintaining that power and control over another.
  7. 7
    Consider whether intimidation is occurring. This can look like an abuser smashing things, yelling at them in public or in private, driving recklessly or physically harming their children or pets. Cleaning weapons in front of the victim is also a form of intimidation to show them what they are capable of. It can also be as simple as glares or gestures to infer that violence will follow.
  8. 8
    Listen for threats. Abusers may threaten the victim, their family, pets or even threaten to harm themselves. They may also threaten to cut off financial support, threaten to take custody of children away, threaten to out the victim for their gender identity or sexual orientation, or threaten to have them deported if they are undocumented. These threats can make it extremely dangerous to leave the relationship and get the support one needs to begin the healing process.

Part 3
Being a Support System

  1. 1
    Don't blame the victim/surviver. The number one thing to remember when interacting with someone affected by any form of interpersonal violence is to never blame them. Victim blaming perpetuate the isolation that they are already feeling and will not help the situation in any way, shape or form. Listen to the person, provide them options and then remain a support system for them as they choose whatever path they believe is best. Whether they want to stay in or leave the relationship there are ways to be supportive. Remember that their safety, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well, are most important.
  2. 2
    Help them plan for their safety. After listening intently and letting them know that it is not their fault and that they are not alone, you may offer safety planning. This can vary depending on whether they want to remain in the relationship or leave it.
    • If they want to leave, make sure that they have all of their personal documents and finances in order so that once they leave, they do not have to go back. Safely gathering birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards etc. and keeping them in a location that the abuser will not find them is the first step.
  3. 3
    Consider whether they want a protection order. They may also want to file for a protection order (a temporary protection order and then an extended protection order) which a victim advocate can assist with.[1]
    • If physical abuse just occurred, calling law enforcement may allow the victim 24 hours to file for an emergency protection order so that they can pack up their belongings and leave before the abuser can return. If they want to stay, there are still ways for them to remain safer.
  4. 4
    Reach out to others, if they want you to. Letting neighbors and close friends know that they may need to be a safe place to escape to can ensure that there is an escape plan.
  5. 5
    Create a plan for when their partner's anger begins to escalate so that they can get out of harm's way. This may be avoiding rooms that have a lot of weapons like the kitchen, or avoiding rooms that have only one exit. Listen to the victim/survivor, they know the situation best and can come up with a solution, they may just need your support.
  6. 6
    If you can, be there to listen to them even if the cycle of abuse is repeating. Even though they cannot leave, that does not mean that their situation cannot improve with your support. Being there to help them access the medical and mental health resources they may need is essential regardless of whether they stay or leave. Tending to their wounds, making sure that they do not get infections or receive the proper casts is crucial to their well-being. Their mental health is also important, providing counseling resources so that they can cope with the trauma they have experienced or are still experiencing.
  7. 7
    Stay in touch. Finally, if you do nothing else for someone who seems to be in an abusive relationship, just check in. Even if you're not sure what the circumstances are, simply asking "are you okay?" or "is there anything I can do to help," can go a long way. Just imagine if you were in that situation, how would you want people to respond?

Community Q&A

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  • If you do not know how to confront the situation follow the three D's:
    • Direct: Confront the situation yourself. This can be as simple as checking in or as extensive as providing a place to stay.
    • Delegate: Bring in others to handle the situation. If you do not feel comfortable handling this alone, you can bring outside resources. This may look like: a neighbor, law enforcement, victim advocates, family, friends etc.
    • Distract: If you are in the middle of a violent outburst and do not want to escalate the violence, you may use distraction. Saying that someone's car is being towed or spilling a drink may distract the abuser long enough to escape from harm's way. Again, make sure to not escalate the violence or put yourself in danger.


  • Your safety should come first. Do not put yourself in harms way, because you cannot help someone else if you are in danger. This extends to mental and emotional harm, you can step away from a toxic situation. Rather, you can delegate to someone else, like an advocate, law enforcement, another friend or family member.

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Categories: Abuse

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