Is your loved one isolated with an abusive partner?
When a loved one tells you they’re being abused, it’s hard to know how to react. You want to help, but you don’t want to make the abusive situation worse. You want to respect your loved one’s confidentiality, but you also feel like you need to involve an authority. What is right, and what is wrong?
It’s hard to know how to handle this kind of situation. Every person and every couple is different, and on top of it all, we are in a pandemic. What matters most is that your loved one trusts you enough to confide in you about this matter, and that you are listening to them.
Ask your loved one how they would like you to support them, but don’t ignore your gut instinct; especially if they or a child are potentially in danger.
How can you support your loved one, while they are in isolation with their abuser?Read more.
- Check in with your loved one on a regular basis to ask them how their isolation is going, and if they need anything. Ask open-ended questions; it often gives you more feedback.
- Try to do a video call instead of a phone call, if you can. You get more from people’s body language and natural reactions in a video, than you do from audio only.
- Whenever you speak to your loved one, mention the good news stories and real details about COVID-19 to avoid the abuser giving them misinformation.
- Keep your phone’s volume up as often as you can; most domestic abuse occurs in the nighttime.
- Make sure you always have a full tank of gas, in case worst comes to worst and you need to pick up your friend to remove them from the situation. We recommend engaging professionals or enforcement first, and respecting social distancing measures, but we also recognize that more rural and remote communities may have to way as long as 20 minutes or more to receive help. That may be too long of a wait. Assess the risk and time response to your best ability.
- Ensure your loved one has their own personal protective equipment (PPE); gloves, a mask, hand sanitizer… these are items an abuser may withhold as an isolation tactic. Have a small stash on you in case they ever need a replacement or have them find a hiding spot for the items on their property.
- Now that your loved one is home with their abuser, they may not have an opportunity to check the Internet, find supportive resources during COVID-19, or connect with loved ones as easily. The places they consider “safe” (school, work, a sports practice, etc.) are no longer available to them. If a crisis does occur, they may be experiencing too much trauma to know how to get the help they need.
Take it upon yourself to know what supportive resources are in NL during COVID-19 and keep a note of particular organizations that match the situation your loved one is in; that be any of these provincial help lines, Stella’s Circle, or another one of the places we’ve listed in our local directory (linked above).
- If your loved one is female and the abuser is withholding Internet or their cellphone, let them know that Stella’s Circle has a program which provides cellphones to women to gain independence, and flee domestic abuse situations.
- Document the date and details of any conversation your loved one has with you, regarding being abused. Take screenshots of any text proof. Try to convince your loved one to take photos of any partner-inflicted wounds and to send the photos to you, so they don’t have to store it on their phone. Then, if something escalates or they eventually end up in court, you can support your friend with the proof.
- Remind your loved one to wipe their phone history and delete any conversations they have had pertaining to the abuse, in case the abuser looks through their phone.
- Ask your loved one to give you a bag with a change of clothes and a few essentials in it, as well as important IDs they won’t need on a daily basis (IE passport, birth certificate, etc.). Try to arrange getting it, while continuing to socially distance (Curb-side) in the safest way possible. If they make a run for it last minute and can’t grab anything, atleast they know they have some essential items with you.
- If they have the opportunity to do so, it would be important to ensure their Hospital Emergency Contact Person isn’t their abuser. They should try to change it to either yourself, or another loved one who knows about the abuse.
- Ask them if they need anything picked up from the grocery store, if they don’t have transportation or have limited financial control. In these cases of abuse, your loved one may be lacking essentials or medication.
- If they do have transportation and financial control, you may be able to ask them to “help” you with a task. Perhaps you need something on sale and the item is only at the grocery store next to them… You innocently “asking for a favour” sounds less suspicious to an abuser, and it will give your loved one an opportunity to leave the house in peace, even if it’s only for a half hour, to sit in a parking lot and openly talk to a loved one.
- Never let the abuser know that you are onto them. This could cause more harm to your loved one.
- If your loved one isn’t returning your calls or messages and you’re starting to get worried, reach out to a mutual friend or another person who is close to them, and simply ask if they’ve heard from your loved one. Don’t instil anxiety in anybody just yet; simply say you’ve been struggling to get ahold of them.
- If you are the only person who knows about your loved one’s abuse, encourage them to tell one or two other close friends, or ask for permission so you can tell them, on their behalf. Having several people on alert regarding your loved one’s situation makes it easier on everybody – especially the one being abused.
- If you feel safe doing so, and it wouldn’t seem out of the norm to the abuser: Drop some cookies off on their doorstep, knock on the door, then move atleast 6-ft back. Just say you were dropping off cookies to a few friends you were thinking about and wanted to give a quick hello to whoever was home, as you made your rounds. This gives you an opportunity to find out about your loved one’s whereabouts, without letting on that you know about their issues.
- If something isn’t right and the abusive partner isn’t being cooperative with your loved one’s whereabouts for longer than you are comfortable, you have every right to request a professional wellness check.
- Above all else, NEVER put yourself in danger. Respect COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, and involve professionals before personally confronting the abuser yourself.
Survivors of abuse do a phenomenal job at downplaying their trauma. Pre-pandemic, many survivors have already developed coping strategies and skills to manage violence in their everyday life. Respect how your loved one responds to you, but also don’t disregard your gut instinct.
We hope some of these tips will provide you and your loved one with some peace of mind during this difficult time.If you are looking for more specific advice or couldn’t find a type of support you were looking for in our Local COVID-19 Support Directory, please contact us.
We are here for you, and your loved one.
These rates are going to go up faster than any of the other social issues that we’re going to see. This is not just about a social service response to those who experienced domestic violence; Every Canadian has a role to play.Andrea Silverstone, Executive Director of
Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society in Calgary