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Fact Sheet

Helping a friend in a sexually abusive relationship


Photo by: kristofabrath

It is usually difficult to know if a friend is in a sexually abusive relationship. But there are some warning signs that you might notice, especially in his or her behavior.

What to look for:

  • Your friend is losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy;
  • Your friend is overly worried about what his or her boyfriend or girlfriend thinks;
  • He or she is acting overly happy or seems to be worried and anxious when with his or partner;
  • If someone calls your friend’s partner out on something negative, your friend makes excuses for his or her partner all the time;
  • He or she is avoiding friends and social activities that do not include his or her partner;
  • Your friend jokes about his or her partner’s violent outbursts;
  • Your friend has unexplained injuries and the explanations seem odd or unlikely;
  • Your friend’s behavior has changed dramatically since he or she started dating this current partner.

How you can help

If you do suspect that your friend is being abused by his/her partner, there are some ways you can help, but it is always important to remember that if you believe that you or your friend are in some immediate danger, you need to go to the police.

Encourage your friend to talk. Try to get your friend to do most of the talking. Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your friend:

  • How are you feeling about your relationship?
  • What do your friends and family think about your relationship?
  • Do you have plans for the future of your relationship?

Try to talk when you’re alone with your friend, not in front of other friends or family members, especially his or her partner. Sometimes it can be easier to talk if you’re also focused on another activity like going for a drive, making a meal or doing the dishes. You should talk to your friend or seek help from an outside source, but do not confront your friend’s partner. This could make the situation worse and you could even be putting yourself in an unsafe position. You will also want to suggest that your friend not go talk to his or her partner about your conversation.

Listen to your friend. Don’t be judgmental. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, he or she probably already feels down. Don’t make your friend feel worse.

Don’t blame your friend for what’s happening. Don’t tell your friend what he or she should have done differently. Concentrate on what makes him or her happy and how your friend can take action to change things now.

Don’t tell your friend what to do. Instead, encourage your friend to think about options. You might ask your friend if he or she has already tried getting help, or you might suggest places to seek help.

Be specific about why you’re concerned. For example, say things like I feel bad when he says you’re stupid or We hate to see you nervous and unhappy.

Make sure your friend knows he or she has your support. Your friend might be feeling very isolated and alone. Let your friend know that you are there for him or her, and that he or she has already begun seeking help by talking to you. Make sure your friend knows you are willing to support him or her in any way that will help.

Help your friend work out some realistic strategies. What works in this situation will depend on how willing your friend is to see that there is a problem.

Your friend has to find his or her own way through the situation, but talking to you or a trusted person can help. If your friend does not want to talk to you about it, you might just suggest that your friend call a hotline (like one of the ones listed below), where he or she can get help without bringing anyone personal into the situation. Encouraging your friend to realize his or her strengths as an individual can be the best protection you can give, and the best way to ensure that your friend does not become a victim of abuse again.

Where to get help

Finding the courage and the appropriate way to talk about these issues with your friend is important. If you need advice or information for how to do this, there are lots of services and support available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or has been sexually assaulted. Though you should not feel personally responsible for a friend’s situation, you can always choose to help.

You can call The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for help and more information for either you or your friend. For emergency situations where your friend is in immediate danger, call 911. You can also call Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 to speak with trained volunteers who can direct you to support services in your area.

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Last reviewed: April 26, 2012

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